AC: Saying what?
ET: It's a temporary manifestation of the real.
AC: So if the world is a temporary manifestation of the real, what is the enlightened relationship to the world?
ET: To the unenlightened, the world is all there is. There is nothing else. This time-bound mode of consciousness clings to the past for its identity and desperately needs the world for its happiness and fulfillment. Therefore, the world holds enormous promise but poses a great threat at the same time. That is the dilemma of the unenlightened consciousness: it is torn between seeking fulfillment in and through the world and being threatened by it continuously. A person hopes that they will find themselves in it, and at the same time they fear that the world is going to kill them, as it will. That is the state of continuous conflict that the unenlightened consciousness is condemned to—being torn continuously between desire and fear. It's a dreadful fate.
The enlightened consciousness is rooted in the unmanifested, and ultimately is one with it. It knows itself to be that. One could almost say it is the unmanifested looking out. Even with a simple thing like visually perceiving a form—a flower or a tree—if you are perceiving it in a state of great alertness and deep stillness, free of past and future, then at that moment already it is the unmanifested. You are not a person anymore at that moment. The unmanifested is perceiving itself in form. And there is always a sense of goodness in that perception.
So then all action arises out of that, and has a completely different quality from action that arises out of the unenlightened consciousness, which needs something and seeks to protect itself. That is really where those intangible and precious qualities come in that we call love, joy, and peace. They are all one with the unmanifested. They arise out of that. A human being who lives in connectedness with that and then acts and interacts becomes a blessing on the planet, whereas the unenlightened human is very heavy on the planet. There is a heaviness to the unenlightened. And the planet is suffering from millions of unenlightened humans. The burden on the planet is almost too much to bear. I can sometimes feel it as the planet saying, "Oh, no more, please."
AC: You encourage people to meditate, to as you describe it, "rest in the Presence of the Now" as much as possible. Do you think that spiritual practice can ever become truly deep and have the power to liberate if one has not already given up the world and what the world represents, at least to some degree?
ET: I wouldn't say that the practice itself has the power to liberate. It's only when there is complete surrender to the now, to what is, that liberation is possible. I do not believe that a practice will take you into complete surrender. Complete surrender usually happens through living. Your very life is the ground where that happens. There may be a partial surrender and then there may be an opening, and then you may engage in spiritual practice. But whether the spiritual practice is taken up after a certain degree of insight or the spiritual practice is just done in and of itself, the practice alone won't do it.
AC: Something that I've found in my own teaching work is that unless the world has been seen through to a certain degree, and unless there is a willingness based on that seeing to let go of it, then spiritual experience, no matter how powerful it is, is not going to lead to any kind of liberation.
ET: That's right, and the willingness to let go is surrender. That remains the key. Without that, no amount of practice or even spiritual experiences will do it.
AC: Yes, many people say they want to meditate or do spiritual practice, but their spiritual aspirations are not based on a willingness to let go of anything substantial.
ET: No, in fact it may be the opposite. Spiritual practice may be a way to try to find something new to identify with.
AC: Ultimately, would you say that real spiritual practice or real spiritual experience is meant to lead one to the letting go of the world, the transcendence of the world, the relinquishment of attachment to the world?
ET: Yes. Sometimes people ask, "How do you get to that? It sounds wonderful, but how do you get there?" In concrete terms, at its most basic, it simply means to say "yes" to this moment. That is the state of surrender—a total "yes" to what is. Not the inner "no" to what is. And the complete "yes" to what is, is the transcendence of the world. It's as simple as that—a total openness to whatever arises at this moment. The usual state of consciousness is to resist, to run away from it, to deny it, to not look at it.
AC: So when you say a "yes" to what is, do you mean not avoiding anything and facing everything?
ET: Right. It's welcoming this moment, embracing this moment, and that is the state of surrender. That is really all that's needed. The only difference between a Master and a non-Master is that the Master embraces what is, totally. When there is nonresistance to what is, there comes a peace. The portal is open; the unmanifested is there. That is the most powerful way. We can't call it practice because there's no time in it.
AC: For most people who are participating in the East-meets-West spiritual explosion that is occurring with ever-greater speed these days, both Gautama the Buddha and Ramana Maharshi—one of the most respected Vedantins of the modern era—stand out as peerless examples of full-blown enlightenment, and yet, interestingly enough, in regard to this question of the right relationship to the world for the spiritual aspirant, their teachings diverge dramatically.
The Buddha, the world-renouncer, encouraged those who were the most sincere to leave the world and follow him in order to live the holy life, free from the cares and concerns of the householder life. Yet Ramana Maharshi discouraged his disciples from leaving the household life in pursuit of greater spiritual focus and intensity. In fact, he discouraged any outward acts of renunciation and instead encouraged the aspirant to look within and find the cause of ignorance and suffering within the self. Indeed, many of his growing number of devotees today say that the desire to renounce is actually an expression of ego, the very part of the self that we want to liberate ourselves from if we want to be free. But of course the Buddha laid great stress on the need for renunciation, detachment, diligence, and restraint as the very foundation on which liberating insight can occur.
So why do you think the approaches of these two spiritual luminaries differ so widely? Why do you think that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to leave the world while Ramana encouraged them to stay where they were?
ET: There's not one way that that works. Different ages have certain approaches, which may be more effective for one age and no longer effective in another age. The world that we live in now has much greater density to it; it is much more all-pervasive. And when I say "world," I include the human mind in it. The human mind has grown even since the time of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago. The human mind is more noisy and more all-pervasive, and the egos are bigger. There's been an ego growth over thousands of years; it's growing to a point of madness, with the ultimate madness having been reached in the twentieth century. One only needs to read twentieth-century history to see that it has been the climax of human madness, if it's measured in terms of human violence inflicted on other humans.
So in the present time, we can't escape from the world anymore; we can't escape from the mind. We need to enter surrender while we are in the world. That seems to be the path that is effective in the world that we live in now. It may be that at the time of the Buddha, withdrawing was much, much easier than it would be now. The human mind was not yet so overwhelming at that time.
AC: But the reason that the Buddha preached leading the homeless life was because he felt that the household life was full of worries, cares, and concerns, and in that context he felt it would be difficult to do what was needed to live the holy life. So in terms of what you're saying about the noise and distraction of the world, that is actually precisely what he was addressing and why in fact he led the homeless life and encouraged other people to do the same.
ET: Well, he gave his reasons, but ultimately we don't know why the Buddha put the emphasis on leaving the world rather than saying as Ramana Maharshi did, "Do it in the world." But it seems to me, from what I have observed, that the more effective way now is for people to surrender in the world rather than attempt to remove themselves from the world and create a structure that makes it easier to surrender. There's a contradiction there already because you're creating a structure to make it easier to surrender. Why not surrender now? You don't need to create anything to make surrender easier because then it's not true surrender anymore. I've stayed in Buddhist monasteries and I can see how easily it can happen—they have given up their name and adopted a new name, they've shaved their heads, they wear their robes—
AC: You're saying that one world has been abandoned for another. One identification has been given up for another; one role has been dropped and another has been assumed. Nothing has actually been given up.
ET: That's right. Therefore do it where you are, right here, right now. There's no need to seek out some other place or some other condition or situation and then do it there. Do it right here and now. Wherever you are is the place for surrender. Whatever the situation is that you're in, you can say "yes" to what is, and that is then the basis for all further action.
AC: There are many teachers and teachings today that say that the very desire to renounce the world is an expression of ego. How do you see that?
ET: The desire to renounce the world is again the desire to reach a certain state that you don't have now. There's a mental projection of a desirable state to reach—the state of renunciation. It's self-seeking through future. In that sense, it is ego. True renunciation isn't the desire to renounce; it arises as surrender. You cannot have a desire to surrender because that's non-surrender. Surrender arises spontaneously sometimes in people who don't even have a word for it. And I know that openness is there in many people now. Many people who come to me have a great openness. Sometimes it only requires a few words and immediately they have a glimpse, a taste of surrender, which may not yet be lasting, but the opening is there.
AC: What about the spontaneous call from the heart to abandon all that's false and illusory, all that's based on the ego's materialistic relationship to life? For example, when the Buddha decided, "I have to leave my home behind—it would probably be hard to say that was an egotistical desire, looking at the results. And Jesus saying, "Come follow me. Let the dead bury their dead."
ET: That is recognizing the false as false, which is mainly an inner thing—to recognize false identifications, to recognize the mental noise, and what had been identification with mental images as a "me" entity, to be false. That is beautiful, that recognition. And then action may arise out of the recognition of the false, and perhaps you can see the false reflected in your life circumstances and you may then leave those behind—or not. But the recognition and relinquishment of all that is false and illusory is primarily an inner one.
AC: Those two cases, the Buddha and Jesus, would be examples of powerful outer manifestations of that inner recognition.
ET: That's right. There's no predicting what is going to happen as a result of that inner recognition. For the Buddha, of course, it came because he was already an adult when he suddenly realized that humans die and become ill and grow old. And that was so powerful that he looked within and said that everything is meaningless if that's all there is.
AC: But then he was compelled to go off, to abandon his kingdom. From a certain point of view he could have said, "Well, it's all here right now, and all I need to do is just surrender unconditionally here and now." Then I guess the result could have been very different, he could have been an enlightened king!
ET: But at that point he didn't know that all that was necessary was surrender.
AC: Yet, when Jesus was calling the fishermen to leave their families and their lives to follow him and, similarly, when the Buddha would walk through towns and call the men to leave everything behind, their surrender was demonstrated in the actual leaving, in saying "yes" to Jesus or the Buddha and letting go of their worldly attachments. And obviously there would also be their inner attachment to let go of as well. In these cases, letting go wasn't only a metaphor for inner transcendence; it also meant literally letting go of everything.
ET: For some people that is part of it. They may leave their habitual surroundings or activities, but the only question is whether or not they have already seen the false within. If they haven't, the external letting go will be a disguised form of self-seeking.