What you perceive as a dense physical structure called the body, which is subject to disease, old age, and death, is not ultimately real – is not you. It is a misperception of your essential reality that is beyond birth and death, and is due to the limitations of your mind… The body that you can see and touch is only a thin illusory veil. Underneath it lies the invisible inner body, the doorway into Being, into Life unmanifested. Through the inner body, you are inseparably connected to this manifested One Life – birthless, deathless, eternally present. Through the inner body, you are forever with God… The key (to awakening) is to be in a state of permanent connectedness with the inner body – to feel it at all times. – Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now)
Who, what are we? The great question Zen continually asks is: “Who are you?” According to Tolle, we are Life unmanifested continually manifesting. Let’s pause right here for a moment. This is quite a statement even before we get into Tolle’s elaboration. Tolle uses the capitalization of the word “Life” to point to That which is much deeper than what we usually describe as “life,” the comings and goings, circumstances, and activities of the usual and everyday. Similarly, I capitalize “That” to point beyond the common and everyday into the Eternal, capitalizing “Eternal,” and so on, until Tolle uses the word “God.” This is what spirituality really is, isn’t it, the questions that dance around us concerning “who, what am I?” “What is this life?” and “What is God?” We want to know and to feel some sense of connection of our mortal self with the Immortal, with Creation.
In Eastern religions, and in all mystical traditions, self, life, and God are all One, and so there is no confusion. However, our Western religions, as usually practiced, lost the sense of this infinite connection long, long ago – the sense of the Divine living through and all around us. This is not to say this sense of God living through us and through all the world was not there in the beginnings and in the mystical practice of Western religions. This is what Jesus meant when he declared the Father and the Son are One. His teachings were meant to awaken the sense of the Holy Spirit living through us and everything. The plain truth, however, is that Christianity became much too politicized a social institution almost from the beginning to retain its mystical origin in any truly felt sense for the common persons who identified as Christian. It might be an important insight for Christians who refer to Jesus as “Savior” and as “the Light coming into the world,” to see “Savior” as meaning much the same as Siddhartha Gautama being named “Buddha” – which means “the awakened one.” Jesus, too, intended to awaken people, and in their awakening be saved from their suffering. Both were mystics and teachers whose message was to bring the light of spiritual connection back into the ossified religions of their time.
Similarly, both Judaism and Islam have clear pronunciations in their origins and through their mystics that, just as Asia’s Taoism states that “the Tao that can be named is not the Tao,” Moses inquiring “who are you?” of the burning bush, was answered, “That which cannot be named.” And who/what was it that answered Moses? All mystical traditions will say it was God, the Spirit, that moves through us and through all. It was That which whispers to us from within at a level deeper than the rational mind that requires names and our usual sense of “me-in-the-world.” To be truly spiritual, to live in Spirit, is to know the “One Life – birthless, deathless, eternally present.” What moved through that bush, through Moses, through Jesus, and moves through you and me, through every speck and particle of this world is the dimension of what Tolle is calling “Being,” “Life unmanifested.” It is Spirit. It is God. It is Mystery.
It is the unfortunate fact about religions that as they become social institutions they lose the sense of the Divine happening through us and through all Creation, and the religions of the West became institutions of their societies nearly from their beginnings, and as such, instruments of political and social power. God had to be made human-like, but all-powerful, the Creator, the judge, the rewarder, and punisher. The language of religion was made to reflect the feudal order with aristocracy and priesthood as intermediaries above the common person, petitioning saints and angels and God above them, conflating both divine and temporal authority as “Lord.” Religion became belief in and obedience to dogma and faith imposed by clergy. That’s not how it was intended. The politically incorrect Gospel of Thomas has Jesus pronouncing that the Kingdom of Heaven is spread across the land for those with the eyes to see, implying that The Holy Spirit is not confined to any temple or church, its authority invested in kings and clergy, but is what moves through us and through all that is. It is free, everywhere, here and now.
Christians talk about Soul and Spirit – yet always the question remains whether it is it FELT and KNOWN. It is certainly not when it is as some hysteria, talking in tongues, shouting Halleluiah! and certainly not in singing solemn hymns or bowing heads in prayer while petitioning an anthropomorphic God. All this is carryover of the European medieval culture that shaped Christianity as it is known and practiced today in the churches that are centerpieces of community life, of the social education of our culture. It is echoes of when the church ruled over people’s lives like a despot, this theological authoritarianism even continuing today in fundamentalist religious sects. It is important to remember it was those Pharisees of old Israel, powerful and wealthy religious authoritarians who stood in judgment, hand-in-hand with repressive political leaders, commanding what people were to believe and do that triggered Jesus’s anger. His purpose was to bring a religion of Spirit while teaching that, just as he experienced himself, all were children, that is, extensions and manifestations of God, with the authority of Truth permeating our very Being.
None of this is to disparage those many churches, temples, and mosques, or their parishioners, who make a community and practice of worship based in ethical living and quiet gathering to allow some deeper inner stirring of connection with The Divine to awaken in them. They play an important part in civil society and bring some measure of comfort and solace. It’s just that the mystics from within these traditions would all advise that if we seek a true and deep spiritual connection that carries with us everywhere, that quiets and clears the drama and noise from our everyday life as well as from our mind, we must seek this place within…. and then extend it without… until within and without become one. We must find and live this peace everywhere – even in the most challenging of circumstances, for it is only this felt sense, this living sense of ethics and spiritual connection, that will carry us through even the most challenging of circumstances.
Tolle is challenging – can you feel this? Can you have faith that is based in your own knowing and experience of the Spirit within and everywhere around? This is a kind of faith that few people in our contemporary world have. Tolle tells us that our problem is in “a misperception of your essential reality that is beyond birth and death, and is due to the limitations of your mind.” Tolle is pointing to the Infinite which can be experienced and accessed THROUGH the finite you, which includes your mind, meaning the ego-mind, the sense of “me,” a personality with opinions and beliefs, quirks of thought and emotion and behavior. This is the dimension of mind that THINKS about the Eternal, may yearn for it, but cannot feel it. The spiritual paradox is: the mind which cannot understand the Eternal still is of it.
The feeling state of spirituality happens from a deeper dimension than ego-mind. It happens from what Tolle refers to as the dimension of Being (what is perfectly helpful to refer to as Soul, in a sense, the mind of Spirit) which transcends our separateness and mortality. And this spirit-mind does not happen out of the brain in our head; rather, it pervades our entire being, our body, mind, and all that is. Our bodies and our minds, for one who is “awake,” are experienced as faculties of Spirit to connect with and know itself incarnated as all the world. Many a mystic has answered the question of “who are we?” by saying we are God, Spirit, or the Universe happening through a human being. We and the world were not created by God, rather we and the world ARE Creation, God, happening everywhere. This can be felt, and so, known, “if you have the eyes to see,” and the ears to hear, and the intuitive sense to feel the energy of Being, of Spirit, everywhere, connecting everything, giving this world the dynamism of mortal life arising out of the immortal.
So, Tolle tells us: The body that you can see and touch is only a thin illusory veil. Underneath it lies the invisible inner body, the doorway into Being, into Life unmanifested. Through the inner body, you are inseparably connected to this manifested One Life – birthless, deathless, eternally present. Through the inner body, you are forever with God.” Tolle is telling us to look within for the light of Spirit that opens our lives into peace, compassion, and wisdom. And Tolle is telling us that we can feel and experience this truth, through our inner energy body which is “life unmanifested” becoming a manifested life. In the East, this Spirit energy is well known, referred to in various languages as what the Chinese call “chi.” It is what inspired George Lucas to build his Star Wars galaxy around the idea of the underlying energy of all things called “The Force,” described by Obi Wan Kenobi as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” In the Star Wars galaxy, the dark and light sides of The Force battle each other, yet there is a spiritual implication that this battle will find resolution and harmony in union. So too, for our galaxy. This is a good way to describe every human’s relationship with spirituality. We seek to bring the light of Spirit into the darkness of our material existence, and this is what Tolle is pointing us toward, as do all true spiritual traditions. We search for a pure human experience that has us in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with all the world, and Tolle tells us it can be achieved by “being in a state of permanent connectedness with the inner body – to feel it at all times” – not just within ourselves, for it flows through not only us, but through all things. It is an underlying dynamic field of intelligence that beats our hearts and brings forth the great diversity of life and creates the perfect balance and flow that is nature and all the Universe. In the Vedic tradition of ancient India, this knowing is referred to as “Tat Tvam Asi” – “Thou art That.” True spiritual practice is the awakening of the knowing, feeling and living, that we and everyone and everything are always also Spirit. God is happening through us – look within and all around and know this.