Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Being and the Eternal Now
Philip Jacobs

Book cover - Being

The following is an excerpt from Philip's book, 'Being: the teaching of advaita a basic introduction'. (Buy through Amazon UK Marketplace or from the bookshop at The Study Society.)

See my review of this book.

The seventeenth century philosopher, Rene Descartes, is well-known for his statement, "I think therefore I am". In saying this he tried to limit our identity to just the thinking aspect of the sub­tle body. However, this argument falls apart when we realise that there is a part of ourselves that is aware that we are thinking, that quietly witnesses the thinking and feeling processes. Clearly Consciousness is far more than just thought.

In the Book of Exodus in the Bible, God says to Moses from the midst of the burning bush, "I AM THAT I AM" and "I AM hath sent me unto you". In these statements there only the pure sense of 'Amness' without any qualification, that which is the same for each individual.

Our deepest identity is the feeling of 'I AM'. This feeling is uni­versally felt by all living beings; it is our true identity that is beyond birth and death and beyond change. We saw in our study of the four levels how we tend to identify this with the vehicle of Consciousness rather than with the Consciousness itSelf. This is how our sense of 'I AM' becomes confused with our identity on the line of time in the drama of life. We start to qualify that iden­tity not just by saying, "I AM" but by saying, "I am a man" or "I am a woman", "I am British", "I am Indian", "I am ten years old", "I am fifty years old", "I am a writer, a doctor, an artist" and so on. In taking on these lesser identities as to who we really are, we miss out on our one true identity that is always present and is beyond all change and suffering.

In many of the world's mystical traditions there exists the con­cept of 'Being'. In the Zen Buddhist traditions it is often called the 'Isness' of a thing or person. It is quite distinct from any identity in life, no matter how important, learned or respectable a person may be. Although it is hard to explain, there are some people who appear to have much more of a sense of 'Being' or 'Isness' or 'Presence' than others. They may be quite old or frail and yet something seems to radiate out of them; there is a quality of light, warmth, humour and good nature. Being in the company of such people brings about that same feeling in oneself. The moving mind with all its concerns starts to lose its grip and suddenly every­thing seems to be alright.

This quality of Being is not only unique to great saints and teachers but can also be found in the most unlikely people in per­fectly ordinary circumstances. Often this quality is seen in people not long before they die. As daily life and its drama starts to lose its importance, this underlying identity starts to shine through.

'Being' could be described as the degree to which we are aware of our true identity as this unchanging sense of 'I AM', that which is total stillness and total emptiness. When our identity is con­cerned only with the line of time, this quality is missed except for occasional glimpses. Awareness of our true Being gives a feeling of becoming transparent as the time-bound identity starts to appear more and more illusory. There is an awareness of a great imper­sonal force that flows through one and outwards as if one is just a vehicle and, at the same time, this is who one is.

One of the keys to the experience of our true Being or sense of 'I AM' is that it doesn't exist in time. When we live only with our sense of identity which is on the line of time, we are always caught up in the past or the future, neither of which actually exist. However, it does not mean that it is completely true to say that this sense of 'I AM' only exists in the present moment, since that too is another aspect of time, when time is a mind-made concept or another metaphor. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is always "just this" which gives a feeling of being outside time alto­gether, a sense of eternity or the 'Eternal Now'.

Returning to the story of the man from Baghdad who dreamed of the great treasure in Cairo and who, after many adventures, returned to find the treasure in his own house in Baghdad, we can see that we are all rather like him. We know we have lost some­thing yet we look for it on the line of passing time. Eventually we exhaust that search and come to the realisation that it does not lie in time at all, but only in the eternal now and that it is always avail­able. So we discover that the treasure was always in our own house all the time.

The process of life eventually provides this realisation because when we are very happy we find ourselves automatically in the present, wanting this moment never to end. And when life is dif­ficult, silently resting in the present and not allowing the mind to move forward or back can often be our only refuge. Fear about the future and regret and anger about the past only exist if we let our minds move away from the present. When we meet the anticipat­ed future event it is met in the light of the present and that is usu­ally very different from the way we imagined it.

As Winston Churchill once quoted an old man as saying on his death bed, "I've had a lot of trouble in my life most of which never happened."

When we silently rest in the present our connection with a sep­arate self, supported by the memory of passing time, dissolves and we become aware of a much larger presence that exists only in the now. So it appears that we are leaving our home and making a journey but in reality we never ever leave our true home, for it is always with us and available in the present.

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