By Gautam Sachdeva
A close friend of Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author of the power of now, reminisces upon the many ‘now’ moments he spent with the master
I will never forget my first conversation with Eckhart. It was in Hong Kong, in a friend’s apartment. The Power of Now had been released just a few months ago in the United States, and Eckhart had been invited to give a talk there by close friends of my sister Nikki, who had been greatly impacted by the book and decided to invite him over. Private sessions with Eckhart were also organized. This was, of course, when he was nowhere near as popular as he is today.
I was holidaying at the time in Hong Kong. Nikki went ahead and booked a session for me with him. I was completely resistant to this idea. I had not read the book nor had I heard much of Eckhart, and I thought it wasn’t a very entertaining way to spend an afternoon in such a vibrant city. Besides, I had a short attention span for such matters. When I met Eckhart that afternoon, I mentioned to him that I really had not come with any specific life questions or troubles, as I was on vacation.
However, meeting Eckhart was more than a pleasant surprise. I found him cool as a cucumber, and we actually had an enjoyable 45-minute conversation, talking about the weather, the color black seeming to be the favorite of the people walking on the streets, the money-energy prevailing in the environment, and other such mundane things. But, deep down, I felt this was a very different kind of conversation. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Later on, I realized what it was. It was the total attention that Eckhart held the conversation in. He listened with rapt attention, as if sacred mantras were pouring forth from my mouth. There was also a calm that pervaded the room; a total silence wrapped around the words being spoken. Every other noise seemed to fade into the background, and what I could hear was perhaps the stillness of his single-pointed attention to what I was saying.
I distinctly recall Eckhart’s penetrating gaze throughout this conversation. This absolutely ‘direct’ look made me uncomfortable initially, but I realized that if I looked back and held his gaze instead of moving my eyes away, I was locked in. There was no option to run or hide, but just to be ‘seen through’. It was as if the words were coming out of his eyes when he spoke. And, when he didn’t speak, it was as if he was looking with a razor-sharp intensity which could have burned a hole in the back of my head. I later learned that some spiritual masters burned up lifetimes of karma when they gave their disciples this ‘look’. With Eckhart, I didn’t know at the time whether it was my karma that was burning, but something surely was. Also, there was a seeming hollowness in his look, as if pure consciousness was pouring forth from the pools of his eyes and there was nobody behind them.
It’s the mundane things I remember about my times with Eckhart, no walking-on-water miracles, but simple moments in daily living. For instance, I remember when we went to a fancy Italian restaurant in Vancouver for dinner. An exquisite bottle of red wine was opened. We all savored the first sip – including Eckhart. Indeed, the wine was of an outstanding vintage. I was seated opposite Eckhart. After a while, from the corner of my eye, I once again saw Eckhart raise the glass to his lips to take a sip. He looked at the glass, raised it deliberately to his lips, inhaled the aroma, twirled the glass in his hands, and took the sip – just as if he were tasting the wine for the first time. I asked him, “Eckhart, I saw you take the first sip. Now, the second sip that you took, it looked as if you were taking the first sip!” I saw this incredible look on his face, like that of a little boy enjoying each successive bite of his chocolate, as if it were the first. The law of diminishing marginal utility certainly didn’t apply in his case. He simply stated, “Yes, it was my second sip, but it was as if it were my first.” It was perhaps the first time that it struck me that he was a living example of his teaching – he was his teaching!
Eckhart’s visit to India in February 2002 was really special. The Power of Now had only been launched six months earlier in the Indian market, but he had already developed quite a fan following, cutting across all backgrounds and age groups – covering seekers ranging from nuns to CEOs. Eckhart spoke to a full audience in Chennai, Pondicherry, Rishikesh and Mumbai. But the highlight of Eckhart’s India trip was the short detour we made to the Ramana Maharshi Ashram, in Tiruvanamalai, for a couple of nights. The high point was walking up the sacred mountain Arunachala with Eckhart, to sit in Ramana Maharshi’s cave for a while. The walk up was not as quiet as Eckhart would have liked it to be, as he was easily recognized and hence interrupted many a time. He did express the desire to return again, though I don’t see him having a quieter trip than the earlier one. In Pondicherry, besides visiting Sri Aurobindo’s ashram, we also visited Matri Mandir – one of the most spectacular meditation chambers in India and perhaps the whole world – a round, all-white room situated at the top of what looked like a geodesic dome, which housed one of the world’s largest crystals. Envisioned by The Mother, the purity of the crystal, all-white surroundings and pin-drop silence have an instantaneous effect of switching off one’s thoughts. Matri Mandir resonates with an electrifying purity, and we sat there for about 45 minutes soaking in the rarefied atmosphere. At both these spiritual centres, I can hardly remember the content of conversations with Eckhart; I think that’s because hardly any took place.
When we found out that Eckhart was giving talks in Glastonbury and then Findhorn, Scotland, in May/June 2004, it seemed the perfect setting to meet with him once again.
I had always wanted to visit Glastonbury – the Isle of Avalon, replete with Arthurian legends and a place of intense mysticism. A three-hour drive from London, it was considered to be the last resting place of the Holy Grail. Joseph of Arimathea is supposed to have brought the chalice to Glastonbury, where it is now said to be buried. Today, Glastonbury, which is a one-street town, is considered to be one of the most powerful energy points on the planet. Its main attraction is the Glastonbury Tor, a peculiar mound of earth which rises up in the middle of nowhere, atop which is perched a tower. The tower is so simple, basic and banal that you almost wonder what it’s doing up there. But something deep within tells you that there is certainly more to it than meets the eye. The peculiar labyrinth-like pathway that ascends to, and then descends from the Tor, was supposed to be like a ‘meditative walk’, with each step bringing man closer to God. Some New Age enthusiasts consider it to be the heart chakra of the world.
The Tor of Silence
The evening we arrived in Glastonbury, we spoke with Eckhart to ask him when we could meet up for some private moments together, other than the meals that were at fairly big tables. Eckhart mentioned that he would love to take a walk with us up the Tor, as it was something he had not done in a long while. Many years ago, while he was driving to nowhere after his life-transforming experience, his car mysteriously broke down in Glastonbury and he ended up staying there for quite a while. During that stay, he mentioned he had climbed up the Tor almost every single day, for over a hundred days! I mentioned to Eckhart that we had booked a tour guide in advance, who seemed to be the best in town, for he owned the biggest New Age bookstore on the main street, and was a member of the local Order of the Templars to boot! There was complete silence at the other end of the phone line. Then, in a gentle tone, Eckhart politely declined, for he mentioned that what he had in mind was more like a ‘silent walk’, a silent tour of the Tor, to soak in the natural beauty and wonder of this ancient hillock. We decided to excuse ourselves from the guide’s service to the Tor part of the tour. I never did find out more about the historical facts of the Tor, but the visual imprint of the scenery and beauty of the surroundings is etched into my memory, at least for this lifetime. And this I certainly owe to Eckhart.
From the top of the Tor, the view is stunning and splendid, for you can see 360 degrees all around you, as if you are standing on higher ground and closer to heaven. We spent moments there in silence, appreciating the natural beauty of the place. On this occasion again, as in the past, I felt nature come alive much more when I was in Eckhart’s presence. It was as if nature were welcoming her son home, and he appreciated and acknowledged that in return. A kind of muted, invisible exchange of mutual respect and admiration. It reaffirmed my belief that given the option, Eckhart would prefer to spend time with the trees and the sky and grass, and leave the man-made world far behind. He was completely immersed in the breathtaking scene before him, lost in it and oblivious to the world, a look which was reminiscent of the Heart Sutra of the Buddha: Gate, gate, paragate… (Gone, gone, gone over to the other shore…)
The Signs of a Sage
Eckhart’s Glastonbury talk was brilliant, full of his delightful humor. As Glastonbury was a hub for psychics and fortune-tellers, there were naturally many of them in the audience. And Eckhart could not help but mention in his talk, with a glint in his eye like a mischievous child: “I want to tell all the psychics here that you can only be psychic in the present moment.” I couldn’t help but think how obvious it is that our future is bound to the present moment, but it is we who slice up time as if it were a big loaf of bread, creating slices, while forgetting that all along what exists is only the loaf. This reminds me of the Zen saying, “You cannot enter a place that you never left.” The Town Hall hadn’t seen a crowd quite like this before, all for a man who just sat on a chair, the only prop on the stage a bouquet of flowers, and with no PowerPoint presentation or laser-pointer in hand. Truly, simplicity and humility are the hallmark of a sage. When Advaita sage Ramesh Balsekar is asked by seekers how one can determine whether a sage is genuine or not, he says that what he does know is when a person is not a sage – and that is when there is an absence of humility. Humility and simplicity are qualities I have repeatedly observed in Eckhart. As Eckhart himself mentioned at the talk, “Before The Power of Now I was just an ‘ordinary’ person. Now, after its success, people look at me and say, “Oh, look at the author of The Power of Now, he looks so ordinary!”
All in all, I knew that coming to the talks was just an excuse. The main purpose was to share some moments with Eckhart other than those while he was ‘talking’. And perhaps all seekers could approach their teachers with this in mind. Rather than just reading their books, one could see the space between the words, which allows the words to be. Rather than just listening to their talks, one could hear the silence that enables them to speak. Casting aside all preconceived ideas and being open to the pulsating, throbbing dynamism of the moment. Great sages like Ramana Maharshi and Nityananda mostly taught through silence. Meher Baba did not speak for the last 40 years of his life. It is on the threshold of silence that stillness arises within us, and with that, the heightened awareness of what the present moment has to offer. Which could perhaps give us a glimpse into eternity. In Eckhart’s words, “Eternity does not mean endless time. It means no time.”
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