An Interview with Eckhart Tolle by Michael Bertrand
How are things for you these days? Are you very busy? How are you
handling all the attention thatís coming your way?
Well, the book came out two and a half years ago now and certainly
my external life has changed dramatically with a lot of traveling
and talking. I used to live a very sheltered life and now it seems
to be the opposite of that. Iím out there in the world all the time.
Iím actually quite enjoying it, but I am perhaps at heart a hermit
so I love to take time off where I donít travel or see people and
Iím just alone in stillness.
Iím amazed how many people responded to the book. I never expected
that many people to respond to it. I knew the book would be around
for a long time. I thought it might grow very slowly but itís
growing very quickly now.
What people reading this might be most interested in is what is the
teaching that you describe in the book and in your talks?
The essence, the very foundation, of the teaching is that a
different state of consciousness is possible for humans. The state
of consciousness that is considered normal and that has been running
human history for thousands of years is not the only possible state
of consciousness. Itís also not the most advanced state possible for
Itís nothing new. All the great teachings and teachers have pointed
to the fact, since the normal state of consciousness is a state that
is extremely deficient, a state that in the ancient teachings has
been called suffering. The Buddha called it suffering, Jesus called
it a state of sin and illusion, and the Hindus call it a state of
So, all ancient teachings agree that the normal human state of
consciousness is, as I call it, a state of insanity. Anybody can
verify this for themselves if they look at human history, 90 percent
of whichóreally, if you look at it objectivelyówould be called the
history of collective insanity, with the enormous amount of
suffering inflicted by humans on other humans and on themselves and
The second part of the teaching is that itís possible to enter that
state now. Not only is it possible to enter it now, but the only
time when you can enter that state of consciousness is in the Now;
not needing the future in order to arrive at a projected state of
consciousness, but realizing that new state of consciousness one
that is free of time.
The main characteristic of the old state of consciousness is that it
is dominated by past and future, in other words by time. If you
observe the workings of your mind you will see that youíre almost
never in the present moment. The mind is always engaged in
projecting a future, thinking about the future, trying to get to the
future or reviving the past.
All ancient teachings agree that the normal human state of
consciousness is, as I call it, a state of insanity.
The old state of consciousness is also a state of identification
with thought processes. Now what does that mean? To be identified
means to derive your sense of self, of who you are from thought
movements, to be completely trapped in the mental noise, to have
your identity in the mental noise.
Then your whole sense of self is derived from thought, which means
an image forms in the head of "who I am," of "thatís me," and that
image is always ill at ease, even in the people who look very
confident. The self image of the Little Me as I call it, a mind-made
sense of self or ego, is always ill at ease. This sense of self
needs conflict in order to feel that it exists. It cannot tolerate a
prolonged period of non-conflict because the Little Me depends for
its continuous existence on the feeling of separateness.
It defines itself as "me" and "other," which is not me. So, the more
I can be in conflict with the not me the stronger myóultimately
illusoryósense of self becomes. The ego tells you continuously that
it wants to get out of conflict. Itís looking for happiness, but the
ego is constructed in such a way that the state of happiness it says
it looks for it cannot afford to find when its very survival depends
So one could come right to the edge of, say, moving into a selfless,
non-egoic state and then pull back. You could get very far and then
the ego just marshals all its forces. How does one get through that?
First of all, itís true that you can get to the edge and then pull
back because peace is too threatening for the mind-made ego self.
The first thing is to realize that unhappiness, dissatisfaction and
discontent always seem to be caused by external factors but thatís
an illusion. They are built into the very structure of the egoic
mind and that is the essence of the old consciousness.
It is an amazing realization that no matter where you go those
structures will go with you. You could go into the most paradisiacal
island or to a planet that is heaven, but you would still be
carrying with you the structures of the egoic mind and it will
transform heaven into hell. Itís an enormous step forward to realize
for oneself that all the unhappiness, discontent and conflict in
most peopleís lives originate within the structures of our minds
rather than being externally caused.
When you see very clearly what the origin of the state of
non-freedom is, that is the beginning of liberation. Itís actually
already the beginning of the new state of consciousness. One could
say that as soon as you begin to be able to witness the workings of
your mind instead of being totally identified with them (and I
include emotions in that because they are the reflections in the
body of what the mind is doing), this is already the arising of the
new state of consciousness.
Then you watch how discontent arises, how unhappiness arises and
then you look more deeply and you see the very root cause: It denies
or resists or fights against the present moment. The very root cause
which keeps the structures of unhappiness going is the refusal to
accept life totally and say "yes" to this moment.
The moment you say yes to what is, youíre no longer resisting life,
because life is always now. The non-acceptance of what is lies at
the basis of the egoic sense of self because it grows stronger
through fighting and resisting and saying, "No, no, no." Then the
illusory sense of who I am get stronger. So, the illusion gets
stronger, the ego gets stronger, the suffering gets stronger. They
all go together. The ego loves that.
So, itís not surprising that if you look at human history you see
how mad it is and you can see that it all originates in the
structures of the human mind. It created that hell on a planet that
is basically paradise.
In order to feel the present moment, I have to find a way to feel
what I havenít been feeling. I have to get beyond the pretense or
the shield thatís over my heart, to somehow get through that to even
get to the place of thinking about it.
Yes. Very often there is denial of what is happening in the present
moment, not wanting it to happen, which includes whatís happening
inside you at that moment, to completely say "yes" to whatever
emotion may be there or whatever your inner state may be at this
moment or to completely say "yes" to whatever the external situation
may be at this moment. Itís too late to fight it because it is. You
canít fight what is.
You can take action on the basis of your acceptance of what is.
Action that arises out of that acceptance is very empowered. Action
that arises out of a negative state of resistance and denial and
saying Ďno.í can also sometimes contain a lot of energy, but it is
contaminated with heavy negativity. It comes out of the saying Ďnoí
and itís there to strengthen or defend the egoic sense of self. So,
whatever action arises out of that would, in Eastern terms, be
called "karmic" which produces further karma and further suffering.
The moment you say yes to what is, youíre no longer resisting life,
because life is always now.
A very radical shift in human consciousness is possible, but when I
say that, the egoic mind will immediately come in and say, "Okay,
just tell me how to get there and I will draw up a plan and weíll
get there at some point in the future." The ego will project a state
of perfection that "I can reach at some future time" and it will
strive towards that. That means it has taken the message of
liberation and incorporated it into its old structures of "at some
point in the future I will be okay and complete and fulfilled and
whole. I just need to get there. In the meantime, Iím unhappy
because Iím not there yet."
So, how can one drop into the Now?
Very good question. Whenever you are observing what your mind
emotions are doing, witnessing what is going on inside you, the
state of presence is already arising. You can watch all of this, how
noisy your mind is. When youíre suddenly aware of it, that ability
to watch means youíve dropped out of the time-bound state. Something
has arisen that is very different. I call it the state of presence.
So, again, one could almost say there is no how. That state of
consciousness, which I call the state of presence, being fully
present in the Now, is the state of high alertness. Some people have
experienced it in certain situations of great danger accidentally.
That can be good if one remembers being in a state of intense
aliveness where there was also absence of thinking and of mental
noise, just a state of intense alert presence.
People who climb mountains or engage in other dangerous activities
love that state. Itís the only time when they can be in that state.
If they were in past or future climbing a steep wall they wouldnít
survive for very long. So, in some situations youíre forced into a
state of presence and itís so alive and fulfilling that the old
state becomes very unsatisfying.
People keep wanting to go back and have more experiences so they can
be in that state.
Yes, but itís very limiting if the only place where you can be in
that state is where you engage in dangerous activities. Ultimately
the risk is very high that something will happen and you will drop
off the mountain.
That state of consciousness that I call presence, the good news is
that state is actually arising now almost by itself in many humans.
So itís not so much that we need to bring it about, "How can I make
it happen?" We canít. Rather itís being open for it so it can happen
with greater ease.
So hardly any of us are going to have some flashing moment of
Some do, but thatís not necessary. Gradually a state arising that is
inner stillness rather than noise, a state when mind activity
becomes secondary. All the mental noise no longer has the power to
grab you and to draw your attention in so completely that youíre
totally identified with it. You begin to be able to see thinking as
just thinking, not such a big deal, and you realize that all the
problems that you and most humans are burdened with are mental
Thereís no reality to any problem. Iím not saying that challenges
donít exist in life. Challenges come, but the only way they can
exist is in the Now and thatís the only place where you can face the
challenge by taking action in the Now or surrendering to what is. In
either case itís not a problem.
You can verify this for yourself by asking, "What problem do I have
at this moment?" When you ask that question the mind becomes still
and you realize this moment is actually fine, because most moments
are fine. Even when they donít look fine on the surface, if you
become still enough the present moment always has a deep goodness to
it underneath the external appearance of whatís happening in it
because the very power of your being is inseparable from what I call
Ultimately the Now is the power of your consciousness prior to
thought, prior to forms arising out of it.
What youíre saying would sound quite familiar to someone studying
Buddhist Vippasana meditation techniques, using the practice of
watching the breath and just noticing what arises. Are you bringing
a message thatís akin to that or is it different from what one would
experience in practicing that technique?
The essence of the Buddhaís message was that, also. Meditation
methods are aimed also at bringing about the state of presence,
although he never used those words. The drawback with any technique,
although they may work occasionally but only ultimately when you
drop the technique, is that it gives you time.
Thereís a chapter in the book that is called The Inner Body. Some
people say itís a wonderful technique, but what I call the inner
body is to feel all the time the energy field that permeates the
physical body. The invisible energy field, the animating presence,
is in every cell of the body. To consciously be in and inhabit the
body, even when engaged in activities or talking or listening, is to
have some attention in the inner energy field of the body.
I wouldnít call it a technique because itís too simple. The oak tree
when it feels its roots deep in the earth isnít practicing any
technique. Itís a state of being. And not to be drawn back
continuously into identification with the mental noise is simply to
have attention in the inner energy field of the body.
To sense, to feel the body from within keeps you present. That keeps
you present and itís really all you need. If you want to call it a
technique thatís fine, but itís so simple there isnít much to it. If
you inhabit the body, youíre open to the state of presence and it
becomes a whole body state.
You become present with every cell of the body. You feel that state
of alert and alive presence in your feet, your arms, your chest,
your head. Itís an entire body state. There you are in the Now in
that state of still alertness and whatever needs to happen comes out
of that state. In other words, the higher consciousness is already
operating, no longer the limited conditioned noisy human mind but a
far greater intelligence. The intelligence that runs the body is far
greater than that of the conscious mind. So you connect with that.
The whole of nature, the beauty of the flower, unfolds in complete
Then your whole life can be an expression of no longer being Little
Me trying to make it, trying to survive or succeed, always trying,
trying, trying. Instead you become an expression of that
consciousness, the very intelligence that runs the universe,
realizing that youíre far greater than you could every have imagined
coming from the Little Me trying to become a Big Me.
Thatís the state of just inhabiting the body. That becomes an anchor
for staying present. Itís also the entry point into that state of
beautiful inner stillness where the mental noise subsides and youíre
then highly conscious without noise. The amazing thing then is that
intelligence operates noiselessly.
Humans think that intelligence is associated with thinking. Thinking
is just a tiny aspect of intelligence, but most intelligence, the
whole of nature, the trees, grow in complete silence. The embryo in
the womb grows silently. It doesnít make a noise. The whole of
nature, the beauty of the flower, unfolds in complete silence.
The galaxies exist in total silence and stillness and yet thereís
incredible activity there, so theyíre all expressions of
intelligence that is at work silently. Itís only in humans that
intelligence, in its limited expression as the human mind, is very
noisy. The far greater intelligence that is at work within yourself
operates in silence. That is the state of presence which is
inseparable from inner stillness.
That becomes your dwelling place, your home. You can still think
when itís needed. Thought will arise, but it will be in the service
of that deeper field of stillness, of being, no longer self-serving
thought. Thereís no effort, no trying to make it happen. That would
be the opposite of it. Itís simply being open for it to happen
because it wants to happen.
Some people read the book and it happens. They experience inner
transformation because thereís an energy that comes with the words
that triggers the state. Itís like saying, "Donít you remember?" Or
people read the book and realize itís already arisen in them before
but they didnít have a name for it.
Some people also come to your lectures and experience or hope to
Yes. It can be very helpful to be in the energy field of presence in
a group. Itís not the words. Some people come to all my talks. They
must have listened many times. I basically always talk about the
same things. So, after a while they donít come for the information
or the words any more. They come for the energy field of presence
and may hardly listen to the words.
Is that something you see as coming from you?
It depends what you mean by "you." It doesnít come from me. It comes
through me. Itís deeper. Itís a movement of consciousness. I mean
that the form that I am is like the window frame for it and then the
light comes through the window.
Some people arrive for talks an hour early because they want to sit
close to me, not to be near the form of me but to be with the light.
It has nothing much to do with the window.
One way of putting it is that itís not me and that it happens
through me. But, it would be more true to say that the consciousness
which operates through me is ultimately who I am, not the me that is
the physical form that people see. That consciousness is also who
you are. So, when people come, sometimes from halfway around the
world, to a talk they donít really come to see or hear me. They come
to be with themselves, for the first time to be completely
themselves, getting out of the conditioning and the identification
with mental noise and emotions and simply be who you are.
If I forget that ultimately Iím nobody, then that would be the
return of the ego.
Itís strange that they need to travel a long way to be with
themselves, but it works. Then, after a while, you donít need to
travel anymore to be with yourself.
So, youíre hoping that people donít feel they have to come and sit
with you to get this experience.
No. For a while itís useful, but after that it needs to happen from
within. Itís fine as long as they feel itís helpful to have the
external reflection of it, but not become dependent on it. I
occasionally tell people to go away for a while so they donít become
dependent. Now, with the talks getting bigger I canít do that so I
must just trust that it will be fine and people wonít become
Words are useful here, because I do point out that this needs to be
lived rather than coming once a month or every two weeks to a talk.
That state of consciousness needs to arise every moment, no matter
what activities youíre engaged in and particularly when life
challenges you. Thatís always the test of where youíre at as far as
your state of consciousness is concerned. How you deal with the
challenges and whether the old reactive mind comes in or whether the
challenge makes you more present.
More and more people are able to become more present with every
challenge. In other words, something happens that the mind would in
the past have judged as bad or negative and want to get away from or
become angry about and resist and fight and deny, suddenly the same
challenge brings about a state of greater inner stillness and
alertness. Then action arises that is just right for that moment and
that situation, no longer the reactive mind operating out of its old
Challenges are wonderful things. With everything challenge comes the
opportunity of being intensely present and then action happens if
You see teachers struggling with how to handle the adulation and
appreciation that comes to them without getting bound up into it or
torn apart by it.
Thatís a challenge every spiritual teacher will be faced with at
some point. In some the ego comes back because theyíre bombarded
with projections of specialness. The ego always thinks of itself as
special either in greatness or misery. My problems, my achievements,
my failures, my sufferings are special. The danger is that at some
point he or she begins to believe that the form, me, is special. Of
course, thatís the beginning of the end of the spiritual teacher.
So, I led a very secluded existence for many years being nobody in
the eyes of the world. A few people came, sometimes for spiritual
teaching, but not many. I was happy being nobody and Iím still
nobody, but in the eyes of the world now Iím somebody. If I forget
that ultimately Iím nobody then that would be the return of the ego.
Itís a challenge, but so far it seems to be fine. I donít believe
that now I have become somebody. The power that comes through can
sometimes be very intense and wonderful. Thatís fine if thereís no
me that identifies with it as my power. Itís beautiful.
So thatís your job. To be nobody.
Yes, thatís right.
Thatís a lovely paradox.
Yes. I donít feel any different inside from the way I felt a few
years ago when I was a hermit. It still feels exactly the same
inside. And, I donít have a mental image of myself as a spiritual
teacher. When people go and Iím alone there really isnít anybody
there. Itís just a state of stillness. I donít carry around inside
me the image of me as a spiritual teacher. That would be the
beginning of suffering.