“But it’s not now.” a meditation teacher used to frequently tell me this phrase when I would recount to him various thoughts and emotions that arose in my mind. At the time, I thought that he didn’t care about any of the issues or problems that I was dealing with and that he was patronizing me. However, now, nearly three years since that time, I am beginning to notice the wisdom in his words.
When the Buddha was asked why his disciples who live a simple and quiet life were always so cheerful he commented, “They have no regret over the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present; therefore they are radiant.” To live in the present moment, to live fully in the present moment, is the only way to be truly happy and free from suffering. All suffering has its roots in various thoughts and emotions that arise in the mind. It is our attachment to these thoughts and emotions, our identification with the mind that causes suffering.
In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle states that the mind cannot exist without a relationship to time. That is to say, the mind cannot exist without the past or without the future, any and every thought that arises will invariably be either a memory of the past or a desire or aversion to the future. Try it for yourself, watch your mind and see what the next thought is that arises.
What you will ultimately discover is that the mind does not exist in this moment. What then does exist when one lives in the moment? This is a state of pure being, a state of unbounded awareness. It is a state that many mystics refer to, conveniently enough, as no-mind. In this state of awareness one is fully conscious of the action that one is performing.
All of the actions that we perform on a daily basis can be done in this state of no-mind, in this state of pure and unbounded awareness. Whether we are eating or reading, walking or talking we are simply aware of the action we are performing at any given moment. My aforementioned teacher used to always stress this point that whatever action you are doing be aware of that action and that action alone; be present. This may sound simple enough but to be present is not an easy task by any means.
The following excerpt is taken from the book Zen Keys written by renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh;
“I remember a short conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher of his time.
“I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment. What is your method? What do you practice everyday?”
“We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down.”
“What is so special about that? Everyone walks, eats, washes, and sits down.”
“Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking; when we eat, we are aware that we are eating. When others walk, eat, wash, or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing.”
The question that is bound to arise now is, “how do I cultivate this state of no-mind, this state of present moment awareness?” Begin right now; be fully present in this moment, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Right Now.
Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, 1974. Print.
Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Vancouver: Namaste, 1997. Print.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice. Garden City: Anchor Press, 1974. Print.
Religion and Science, Ian G. Barbour. Harper Collins 1997, p.90.
Science and Religion From Conflict to Conversation, John F. Haught. Paulist Press 1995, p.96.