Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolles

I listened to an interesting interview with Eckhart Tolle on the "The John Murray" show yesterday. Though I was indeed already aware of Eckhart Tolle as one covering similar ground to Chopra - and who is now arguably more successful and influential - I had never actually heard him speak.

On the merit side he came across as genuine and sincere probably helped by his Germanic accent lending an appropropriate touch of gravity to his words.

He spoke about his "conversion" experience at 29 which undoubtedly deeply shaped the rest of his life.
I agree fully with the central basis of his teaching which is the spiritual realisation that only the present moment truly exists. So the secret of deep happiness and fulfilment is to simply learn to live in the continual now of the present moment. I would also agree that the ego in practice is the big obstacle to such realisation with both thought and sense predisposing us to make absolutes of phenomena (which in truth are of a merely relative and ultimately illusionary nature).

However having said this I would have definite reservations with his position. For I believe Tolle (though it may not be his intention) is in fact selling another illusion i.e. that awareness of the true nature of reality can somehow be easily attained.

Perhaps it is just my own hobby horse but I have always found that a major weakness in the position of those advocating spiritual emptiness is that it is rarely properly integrated with phenomenal understanding of form.

In human experience form and emptiness are always necessarily related to each other. Indeed the appropriate experience of form is vitally necessary in fully embracing deeper levels of emptiness!

Therefore the true task is not the surrendering of the ego (with its investment in varied rigid forms); rather it is the difficult developmental task of progressively engaging with a more refined appreciation of form so that it can thereby become compatible with an ever deepening realisation of emptiness.

So I would see that in our age of instant gratification, the very appeal of Tolle's message for many readers is the unjustified belief that spiritual awareness too can be simply achieved.

The spiritual journey is unique for each person where personality characteristics and former experiences play a key role. So some people do indeed appear to find the task of finding true awareness much easier than others.

However accepting the key reality of how the limited ego blocks true freedom of spirit, reform is likely to prove somewhat problematic.

My own experience is that it resembles the peeling of an onion (where the core can never be finally reached). One peels back one layer of the ego enabling a new appreciation of the eternal light only to find new unrecognised layers now impeding reception. So one never can - or even should attempt to - fully surrender the ego. Rather one may through appropriate development, continually attain a more refined appreciation of its nature that can thereby become properly integrated with permanent awareness of the ever present reality of spirit.

A particular barrier to this attainment of spiritual awareness in society is posed by the very nature of our scientific understanding of reality (which in many ways fosters a mental outlook that is incompatible with the spiritual vision).

And as mathematical closely underlines scientific understanding I have always seen my own particular calling in terms of a deep need to develop a more comprehensive approach to both mathematics and science. Thereby both can be made properly compatible with the unfolding of spirit throughout the various stages of contemplative (and radial) development.

Central to this approach is that understanding itself has an infinite number of dimensions (that become ever more refined through spiritualisation).

Thus there is not just one valid overall interpretation of science and mathematics (as represented by the conventional rational outlook). Rather a potentially infinite set exists combining both reason and intuition in increasingly refined configurations.

And for someone pursuing a genuine contemplative path these alternative interpretations become especially appropriate.

Thus belief in the dawning of a new spiritual age (when we at last unmask the folly of the ego) is naive and utopian.

As we face into major environmental and social crises this century (that I fear are inevitable) we will see - at least among some - major shifts in consciousness. However the clash with old ego based beliefs is only likely to intensify rather than recede. This is not to suggest that there is no reason for hope and optimism. Rather it is pointing to the fact that authentic spiritual development is a slow process that can only be properly secured through overcoming many difficulties.

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