This interview was re-edited and reprinted with a special introduction for our 15th anniversary edition.
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ANDREW COHEN: Eckhart,
what is your life like? I've heard that you're a bit of a recluse and
that you spend a lot of time in solitude. Is that true?
That was true in the past, before my book The
Power of Now
came out. For many years I was a recluse. But since
the publication of the book, my life has changed dramatically. I'm now
very much involved in teaching and traveling. And people who knew me
before say, "This is amazing. You used to be a hermit and now you
are out in the world." Yet I still feel that inside nothing has
changed. I still feel exactly the same as before. There is still a continuous
sense of peace, and I am surrendered to the fact that on an external
level there's been a total change. So it's actually not true anymore
that I am a hermit. Now I'm the opposite of a hermit. This may well
be a cycle. It may well be that at some point this will come to an end
and I will become a hermit again. But at the moment, I am surrendered
to the fact that I'm almost continuously interacting. I do occasionally
take time to be alone. That is necessary in between teaching engagements.
AC: Why is it that you need to take time to be alone, and
what is it that happens when you take the time to be alone?
When I'm with people, I'm a spiritual teacher. That's the
function, but it's not my identity. The moment I'm alone, my deepest
joy is to be nobody, to relinquish the function of a teacher. It's a
temporary function. Let's say I'm seeing a group of people. The moment
they leave me, I'm no longer a spiritual teacher. There's no longer
any sense of external identity. I simply go into the stillness more
deeply. The place that I love most is the stillness. It's not that the
stillness is lost when I talk or when I teach because the words arise
out of the stillness. But when people leave me, there is only the stillness
left. And I love that so much.
AC: Would you say that you prefer it?
Not prefer. There is a balance now in my life, which perhaps
wasn't there before. When the inner transformation happened many years
ago, one could almost say a balance was lost. It was so fulfilling and
so blissful simply to be
that I lost all interest in doing
or interacting. For quite a few years, I got lost in Being. I had
almost relinquished doing completely—just enough to keep myself alive
and even that was miraculous. I had totally lost interest in the future.
And then gradually a balance re-established itself. It didn't re-establish
itself fully until I started writing the book. The way I feel now is
that there is a balance in my life between being alone and interacting
with people, between Being and doing, whereas before, the doing was
relinquished and there was only Being. Blissful, profound, beautiful—but
from an external viewpoint, many people thought that I had become unbalanced
or had gone mad. Some people thought I was crazy to have let go of all
the worldly things I had "achieved." They didn't understand
that I didn't want or need any of that anymore.
the balance now is between aloneness and meeting with people. And that's
good. I'm quite attentive to that so that the balance doesn't get lost.
There is now a pull toward increasing doing. People want me to talk
here and talk there—there are constant demands. I know that I need to
be attentive now, so that the balance is not lost, and I don't get lost
in doing. I don't think it would ever happen, but it requires a certain
amount of vigilance.
AC: What would it mean to get lost in doing?
Theoretically, it would mean that I would continuously travel,
teach, and interact with
people. Perhaps if that happened, at some point
the flow, the stillness, might not be there. I don't know; it may always
be there. Or physical exhaustion may set in. But I feel now that I need
to return to the pure stillness periodically. And then, when the teaching
happens, just allow it to arise out of the stillness. So the teaching
and stillness are very closely connected. The teaching arises out of
the stillness. But when I'm alone, there's only the stillness, and that
is my favorite place.
AC: When you're alone, do you spend a lot of time physically
Yes, I can sometimes sit for two hours in a room with almost
no thought. Just complete stillness. Sometimes when I go for walks,
there's also complete stillness; there's no mental labeling of sense
perceptions. There's simply a sense of awe or wonder or openness, and
AC: In your book
The Power of Now you state that "The
ultimate purpose of the world lies not within the world but in transcendence
of the world." Could you please explain what you mean?
Transcending the world does not mean to withdraw from the
world, to no longer take action, or to stop interacting with people.
Transcendence of the world is to act and to interact without any self-seeking.
In other words, it means to act without seeking to enhance one's sense
of self through one's actions or one's interactions with people. Ultimately,
it means not needing the future anymore for one's fulfillment or for
one's sense of self or being. There is no seeking through doing, seeking
an enhanced, more fulfilled, or greater sense of self in the world.
When that seeking isn't there anymore, then you can be in the world
but not be of the world. You are no longer seeking for anything to identify
with out there.
AC: Do you mean that one has given up an egotistical, materialistic
relationship to the world?
Yes, it means no longer seeking to gain a sense of self,
a deeper or enhanced sense of self. Because in the normal state of consciousness,
what people are looking for through their activity is to be more completely
themselves. The bank robber is looking for that in some way. The person
who is striving for enlightenment is also looking for it because he
or she is seeking to attain a state of perfection, a state of completion,
a state of fullness at some point in the future. There is a seeking
to gain something through one's activities. They are seeking happiness,
but ultimately they are seeking themselves or you could say God; it
comes down to the same thing. They are seeking themselves, and they
are seeking where it can never be found, in the normal, unenlightened
state of consciousness, because the unenlightened state of consciousness
is always in the seeking mode. That means they are of
the world and of
AC: You mean that they are looking forward in time?
Yes, the world and time are intrinsically connected. When
all self-seeking in time ceases, then you can be in the world without
being of the world.
AC: What exactly do you mean when you say that the purpose
of the world lies in the transcendence of it?
The world promises fulfillment somewhere in time, and there
is a continuous striving toward that fulfillment in time. Many times
people feel, "Yes, now I have arrived," and then they realize
that, no, they haven't arrived, and then the striving continues. It
is expressed beautifully in A Course in Miracles,
where it says
that the dictum of the ego is "Seek but do not find." People
look to the future for salvation, but the future never arrives.
ultimately, suffering arises through not finding. And that is the beginning
of an awakening—when the realization dawns that "Perhaps this is
not the way. Perhaps I will never get to where I am striving to reach;
perhaps it's not in the future at all." After having been lost
in the world, suddenly, through the pressure of suffering, the realization
comes that the answers may not be found out there in worldly attainment
and in the future.
an important point for many people to reach. That sense of deep crisis—when
the world as they have known it, and the sense of self that they have
known that is identified with the world, become meaningless. That happened
to me. I was just that close to suicide and then something else happened—a
death of the sense of self that lived through identifications, identifications
with my story, things around me, the world. Something arose at that
moment that was a sense of deep and intense stillness and aliveness,
beingness. I later called it "presence." I realized that beyond
is who I am. But this realization wasn't a mental
process. I realized that that vibrantly alive, deep stillness is who
later, I called that stillness "pure consciousness," whereas
everything else is the conditioned consciousness. The human mind is
the conditioned consciousness that has taken form as thought. The conditioned
consciousness is the whole world that is created by the conditioned
mind. Everything is our conditioned consciousness; even objects are.
Conditioned consciousness has taken birth as form and then that becomes
the world. So to be lost in the conditioned seems to be necessary for
humans. It seems to be part of their path to be lost in the world, to
be lost in the mind, which is the conditioned consciousness.
due to the suffering that arises out of being lost, one finds the unconditioned
as oneself. And that is why we need the world to transcend the world.
So I'm infinitely grateful for having been lost.
purpose of the world is for you to be lost in it, ultimately. The purpose
of the world is for you to suffer, to create the suffering that seems
to be what is needed for the awakening to happen. And then once the
awakening happens, with it comes the realization that suffering is unnecessary
now. You have reached the end of suffering because you have transcended
the world. It is the place that is free of suffering.
seems to be everybody's path. Perhaps it is not everybody's path in
this lifetime, but it seems to be a universal path. Even without a spiritual
teaching or a spiritual teacher, I believe that everybody would get
there eventually. But that could take time.
AC: A long time.
Much longer. A spiritual teaching is there to save time.
The basic message of the teaching is that you don't need any more time,
you don't need any more suffering. I tell this to people who come to
me: "You are ready to hear this because you are listening to it.
There are still millions of people out there who are not listening to
it. They still need time. But I am not talking to them. You are hearing
that you don't need time anymore and you don't need to suffer anymore.
You've been seeking in time and you've been seeking further suffering."
And to suddenly hear that "You don't need that anymore—for some,
that can be the moment of transformation.
the beauty of the spiritual teaching is that it saves lifetimes
AC: Unnecessary suffering.
Yes, so it's good that people are lost in the world. I enjoy
traveling to New York and Los Angeles, where it seems that people are
involved. I was looking out of the window in New York.
We were next to the Empire State Building, doing a group. And everybody
was rushing around, almost running. Everybody seemed to be in a state
of intense nervous tension, anxiety. It's suffering, really, but it's
not recognized as suffering. And I thought, where are they all running
to? And of course, they are all running to the future. They are needing
to get somewhere, which is not here. It is a point in time: not now—then
They are running to a then
. They are suffering, but they don't
even know it. But to me, even watching that was joyful. I didn't feel,
"Oh, they should know better." They are on their spiritual
path. At the moment, that
is their spiritual path, and it works
AC: Often the word enlightenment is interpreted to mean the
end of division within the self and the simultaneous discovery of a
perspective or way of seeing that is whole, complete, or free from duality.
Some who have experienced this perspective claim that the ultimate realization
is that there is no difference between the world and God or the Absolute,
nirvana, between the manifest and
the unmanifest. But there are others who claim that, in fact, the ultimate
realization is that the world doesn't actually exist at all—that the world is
only an illusion, completely empty of meaning, significance, or reality.
So in your own experience, is the world real? Is the world unreal? Both?
Even when I'm interacting with people or walking in a city,
doing ordinary things, the way I perceive the world is like ripples
on the surface of being. Underneath the world of sense perceptions and
the world of mind activity, there is the vastness of being. There's
a vast spaciousness. There's a vast stillness and there's a little ripple
activity on the surface, which isn't separate, just like the ripples
are not separate from the ocean.
there is no separation in the way I perceive it. There is no separation
between being and the manifested world, between the manifested and the
unmanifested. But the unmanifested is so much vaster, deeper, and greater
than what happens in the manifested. Every phenomenon in the manifested
is so short-lived and so fleeting that, yes, one could almost say that
from the perspective of the unmanifested, which is the timeless beingness
or presence, all that happens in the manifested realm really seems like
a play of shadows. It seems like vapor or mist with continuously new
forms arising and disappearing, arising and disappearing. So to the
one who is deeply rooted in the unmanifested, the manifested could very
easily be called unreal. I don't call it unreal because I see it as
not separate from anything.
AC: So it is real?
All that is real is beingness itself. Consciousness is all
there is, pure consciousness.