The Eternal Now
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 26th March 1972
Let us consider together one of the profoundest teachings which we find in Buddhism. Those of you who have studied the original texts will remember how in the Mahāvagga there is an account of how two of the greatest disciples of the Buddha become introduced to his teaching and to the Buddha himself. Sāriputta and Moggallāna were the two, and they were truth seekers. As Sāriputta was walking about, he noticed a man who looked perfectly serene and Sāriputta was attracted straightaway to him. After this man has gathered his alms on his morning round, Sāriputta went up to him and spoke to him and asked, “Who is your Teacher and what does he teach?” This disciple, Assaji, answered, “I am but a novice just newly come to the Teaching, but as far as I can gather the essence of that Teaching is just this. Of those dhammā which spring from a cause the truth-finder explains the cause and he also explains the dissolution of that cause. Such in brief is the Teaching of the Enlightened One.”
When we read those words in cold print naturally we feel, “Well, what is there so marvellous about that? Here is a man who is perceptive, he sees, he can penetrate into the cause of this, that and the other, he explains the cause and he explains how that cause undergoes its dissolution.”
But let us look a little deeply into it. This word dhammā (the plural of dhamma) has many, many meanings including things. In English we translate dhammā as things. But the Holy Ones are not concerned with explaining the cause of things. There is one concern of the Holy Ones which is above all other concerns. We may call it salvation, we may call it liberation, we may call it enlightenment and so forth, but those are secondary. The central point concerns the mind. Mind is what distinguishes Man more than anything else from the other kingdoms of Nature. A dhamma is a state of mind. It is in the mind that everything arises for us, our whole perception of the world, our whole process of living in the world has at its centre, as its very core, the mind. Everything arises here, everything proceeds here and everything ends here as far as our awareness of our existence and what happens to us is concerned.
This is the important point, our consciousness. You all know that our states of mind, feeling, the way we speak, the way we act, all these emerge from our state of consciousness fundamentally. The state of consciousness is formless, shapeless. The state of mind and feeling is the first expression in terms of form and shape. What we call our thoughts, our mental states, our moods and all the rest of it are our thought-forms, you can describe them. But you cannot give an analytical description of consciousness itself.
Consciousness in us is the representative of the Transcendent Real, the Infinite, the Absolute, the Void which is the container of the Plenitude which is beyond all conceding, unthinkable, unimaginable. This is consciousness. The states of mind express the inner state of consciousness. In so far as the mind undergoes purification, in so far as the mind is freed of all burdens, all thoughts, beliefs, convictions and so on, which we imagine are reality, when the mind is freed of all that, then it becomes the medium, the transparent medium through which the freed consciousness, the Transcendent consciousness, which is no longer my consciousness or your consciousness but the One and Only Consciousness, functions utterly freely. So you see the importance of the mind. You and I are in touch with, can observe, our states of mind, the different shapes which they take, and these different shapes are obstructions to the Transcendent Reality. These different shapes are determined by all our qualities, our abilities, and disabilities, by what we call our virtues and vices, by our desires and passions and whims and aspirations and what not.
Liberation, fulfilment and the fruition of Man mean complete freedom from all these passing shapes, from being in bondage to the passing shapes and therefore being in bondage also to delusion, to illusions and to all the other qualities that bedevil our human life. All these things confine us to the sub-human state. The Perfected Holy One is the true human. In Christian terminology you have the Son of Man who is also the Son of God. The world Man comes from man, the Sanskrit root, and manas, mind. Man means to mind, and to mind in its essential reality is identical with to create. Mind is creative power, it is Transcendent Energy.
What does the Enlightened One do? Whatever state of mind I am in, he helps me to see for myself the different conditioning factors, limited factors, binding factors, which have given rise to this state of mind. All these states of mind, our thoughts, our feelings and, associated with them, our speech and our actions are all the product of conditioning factors. These states are dependent upon the different factors. The factors never stay put, they are perpetually changing, so our mind-shapes are also continually changing. We are tossed hither and thither like a straw on the rushing water. In this state there is unfulfilment, dissatisfaction, inner confusion, there is sorrow in the Transcendent sense. We all know sorrow and suffering in terms of physical pain, emotional hurts and frustrations of our ambitions, and what not. But these are petty little things which have no significance in the context of humanity, but which become all important in the context of sub-humanity.
If we turn to religion, if we go to a religious teacher in order to solve our problems, we have gone to the wrong man. Your professional psychologist, doctor, your professional priest, he takes it upon himself to help you, to heal you of your sorrows. All he does by and large is to recirculate you as a worldling in a world, into a society which is constantly producing out of itself all those energies and forces which mean dehumanising. This is, if you like, strong language, but consider it for yourselves. Is it so, is it not so? The psychology of the Perfected Holy Ones is the psychology of the purified psyche, the whole mind, the perfected human, and that psychology is utterly different from psychology as I study it or know it, according to the books, according to my perceptions in terms of commonsense and all the rest of it. Up to a point they are valid, they are useful, they are helpful. But that point never escapes the prison house of confinement, of slavery to the different conditioning factors which keep me bound and give me no chance to realize the Unconditioned, the Transcendent.
Those are only words until there is inward realization, a making real in terms of the actual state of your own consciousness. What enables us, what helps us to grow into our full, true humanity, to grow spiritually is so clearly to understand all the conditioning factors that in that utter and perfect understanding, the conditioning factors dissolve away. The misshapen energy of life, which makes up the conditioning factors, that same energy is now transformed into a pure energy, it is cleansed of all its flaws. So the Enlightened One shows what are the conditioning factors that rise to any and every particular and finite state of mind. He also shows how those conditioning factors are made to undergo transformation. The old shapes, the limitations, dissolve away.
This is not merely an intellectual exercise. All intellectual exercises have something of the element of a pastime in them. We want to know this, we want to know that, and if we are very clever we say, “Oh, yes, now I see.” I see nothing at all. We imagine that we see because, when the intellect perceives in its own restricted fashion, what it does is to change the shape of its previous perception into another shape which gives the intellect pleasure to do. That’s all. Watch it very carefully. The intellect is the slave of desire. The intellect is intended to be our efficient tool, a perfect tool, a finished tool, but a perfect tool should be in the hands of the perfect craftsman. If someone makes his living by entertaining the public by bashing a piano about, why give him a perfect Steinway? Let him have a tough, tin kettle of a piano and that will be appropriate for his purpose.
Now the intellect has to become an absolutely perfect tool. But if the intellect is to become the perfect tool, oneself has to be free of all desire, what we commonly call good desires as well as bad desires. This is a very difficult task. It is very difficult to see how and why this should be so. Consider this fact. All desire functions within the sphere of ambivalence. The criteria of desire are good, bad, pleasant, painful, Seek, pursue and acquire the one, and either run away from or smash up or deny the other. The moment we take sides with any one aspect and are biased in favour of it, the mind is prejudiced, and the prejudiced mind can never understand the truth, the whole truth of the whole situation. What I as a subhuman would call a good desire, my ‘goodness’, is tainted with all my shortcomings, my greed, my selfishness, my fear, my ignorance, my confusion, my passion to have a pleasant situation and a pleasant denouement of whatever I undertake.
Look very quietly and clearly at the mind when the passion to do good deeds, to serve noble causes, to express loving your fellow man or serving God, springs up. Look very carefully at the mind. If I say, “Oh, I live only to serve God,” and you look sufficiently clearly and deeply, you will find that it has its unconscious counterpart — to do a disservice to the Devil. But both God and the Devil, our conceptual God and our conceptual Devil, are immortal. The great religions of the world showed extraordinary wisdom when they pointed out that the Devil is never slain, never annihilated by God. This Good-Evil, God-Devil, is my mental creation set up by my intellect. It has nothing to do with Reality. Reality is transcendent to the God-Devil, the Good-Evil ambivalence. We have no qualitative terms in any of the languages of the world to describe Transcendence. If we could, Transcendence would cease to be Transcendence. And yet the extraordinary thing is that we can experience Transcendence when fully awake without descriptive knowing. This is the important point. It is not a state of unconsciousness, it is a whole consciousness which has gone completely beyond all discriminative consciousness, that is to say, all consciousness which divides and separates and produces a sphere of ambivalence, and therefore of an interplay which is usually a conflict, not a harmony. So we have to beware of the way the intellect works where the spiritual life is concerned. The intellect is the slave of desire, and as such the most brilliant intellect, the most penetrating intellect, is a conditioning factor.
There are very deep things. We imagine that we understand them and that we have clear vision with respect to them. But if you really care for the Truth you will find every day of your life that you will wake up with the understanding that you were asleep spiritually all the time.
What a depressing presentation, you will say. But the Truth never depresses if I am totally free of grasping for the Truth, if I am free of greed, for possessing the Truth, for discovering it, for acquiring it, for achieving it, for attaining it, because all this means that I remain a separate being, isolated from the Transcendent Unity of the One Total Reality. You see, this isolative selfness in us is a very subtle thing. In the state of perfect Enlightenment, in that state of utter Unity, (as expressed for instance in phrases like, “I and the Father are One”) in that state one is utterly free. There is no separation, there is no isolative self-consciousness, and in that state one is no longer grasping at anything. If one is no longer grasping at anything, then the whole of the stream of the becoming process flows past, thoughts, feelings, speech, action will all come into being, but they will move in perfect rhythm with that becoming process. You yourself, that innermost core which is beyond all description or knowing by the mind, will be One with the Transcendent Real all the time. In other words, you live in timelessness and all your action has ceased to be action in time, time which is charged with sorrow and misery and bondage, and it has become action in Eternity. The timeless state prevails and flows and expresses itself through the movement of chronological time. Psychological time and chronological time will be one and the same, and in that state there is no attempt to hold back what is going past, there is no attempt to jump the queue and anticipate a future. For all activity which anticipates the future is an activity of desiring for oneself. In that there is no liberation, there is no freedom. Perfection, liberation, divinity is not mine, it is not yours, nor does it belong to a postulated divinity outside ourselves or outside such and such things or persons.
This mystery of the One Total Reality is one of the most marvellous things to realize, but you realize by growing naturally into it, and you are naturally and unconsciously in it, as unconsciously and naturally as we are here and now in space. Do we ever bother about space? No, we are just naturally in it. Ask a fish what is water. “Water?” the fish will say, “I never thought of it.” But he just swims all the time in water, and that is all there is to it.
So, the Enlightened One shows the conditioning factors, because of which the particular state of mind prevails. And this state of mind never is Nirvana, the Transcendent Whole. It never is the state which is utterly purified, utterly free of all stains, greed, hate, delusion, ambition, fear, confusion, anything you like. But by penetrating into that which is false, which is stain, which is evil, by penetrating into it and fully understanding it, it is all transformed into the Absolute Good.
This is spiritual healing. Only you can do it unto yourself. All other spiritual healing is not in the sphere of true, full, perfect humanity. Perfect humanity means perfect creativity, and creative power never predetermines, never makes a blueprint of creation. Creative power and creation as it goes on are identical, one and the same thing. There is no time lag, no gap between creative power and creation. So there is no predetermination, no desirousness in it. When you see that and you realize that Man as Man is fundamentally this creative power, then you see how true it is that all desire must be out of it.
This is one of the very difficult teachings to understand as presented in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. It is not at all easy. As far as I am aware, it is only Hinduism and Buddhism which stress this and carry it to such an extent. Zarathustrianism does not teach quite that sort of desirelessness, nor does Islam. Christian mysticism does touch the depths, all the depths, but orthodox Christian theology does not, as far as I am aware; I may be wrong. As far as I am aware, conventional Christian theology does not touch those depths. The great Christian mystics did of course.
But you see the significance and the importance of this. In this becoming process there is a trend of movement, of growth, and the becoming process is a process whose sphere is a confinement, a limitation. The becoming process, the world as it appears, is contingent upon the Absolute, the Infinite, the Transcendent. It is contingent upon that. But the Absolute comes to full manifestation of Absoluteness only through the right sort of dissolution of the becoming process. It is the perfect art of dying, the dying which is a transforming, of life transforming through the portals of death into other life immediately. This is the profound real meaning of rebirth, the profoundest meaning that I know of. Here is this instantaneous transformation, and in this instantaneous transformation there is only the Eternal Now. The whole of the past as we commonly call it becomes the very next instant, and the whole of the past is embodied in the Now in that sense. But the past exists for us only as a memory, as a fossil. The Now is the Reality, the Now is the Totality. What significance is there to past or to future if you are wholly awake to the immediate Now of the Totality? This is the meaning of Life abundant, living in Eternity, which is utterly free of the categories of space and time which are thrown out by our limited intellects, however brilliant they may be. But if we see all this, then we shall see and understand what is meant by Right Conduct, a phrase which the Buddha uses constantly again and again, Right Conduct of body, Right Conduct of speech, Right Conduct of mind, circumspect.
We have become so wayward through the centuries, so misled, so imprisoned in ourselves, that when we read of such things or hear of such things, we say, “Oh, old fuddy duddy.” Very well, if Truth is fuddy duddy, then let us enjoy our miseries! That is all there is to it. There is no release from them, and no man can escape from them. Absolutely no one can escape. All my thinking, feeling, speaking, doing, produces its immediate consequence NOW. The conventional way in which the doctrine of karma has been presented is a childish mistaken way. “You’ll be a good chap now, you’ll get a nice little reward at the end of the year, when school is over.” Not a bit of it. It is here now, straightaway. Remember St. Paul’s words, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.” You know why? Not to dole out to you the pleasant and the unpleasant, measured out exactly in proportion to what you did here and now. Nothing of the sort. Whatsoever is thought, felt, spoken, done has its immediate action in your own living psyche. How will you escape that? It is part of your very constitution. If I am foolish enough to take some poison and it goes into my body, I can’t escape its consequences. I can take an antidote immediately if I know what the antidote is. That means another action annuls this action. But I alone can take the antidote. If the doctor says “Take this” and I don’t take it, then the poison will work itself out. The great truth-finders, the spiritual teachers of Man not merely showed the Way, they were the Way. Their living being was the living example of Transcendent Reality, of what it meant to be a human being, the perfected human.
And so this teaching of the Buddha… Understand the conditioning factors, and the understanding can only be our own understanding, another person cannot understand on our behalf, we have to understand it. Don’t fight against them. Don’t indulge in them. When you stand firm and steadfast with your vision, with truth, do not stand rigidly, but with infinite resilience, and you will find that all that is evil, and produces the tears and the sorrow and the suffering of yourself and mankind, will all get washed away. There will be peace in the midst of turmoil. You will be the centre of Transcendent Love in the midst of hate and horror that goes on in the world. You will be a light of wisdom in the poisoning darkness around us. And in that there is not merely your fruition and fulfilment but all Mankind reaps the benefit. You sow and Man reaps, and in that is the natural and perfect expression of selflessness, which is the supreme characteristic of the fully human being.