Reality Is The Present Moment: Past and Future are Illusions

Hello everybody, we’re continuing with the teaching of Nisargadatta Maharaj from the book I AM THAT.

The questioner in conversation with Maharaj wants to understand the nature of reality. And the reason is that his thoughts are troubling him. So he conceptualizes the phenomenon (what he observes within himself) in that he thinks of reality as being the body and the SELF with obstructing thoughts in-between.

He calls these thoughts mental dust and an obstruction to realizing reality. In other words, he is troubled by his mind, which is restless. You know, in daily living, we don’t bother with these philosophical questions, yet, deep down, they form the core of our psychological agitation.

This never-ending strive to understand reality is nothing but a ploy to escape the unpleasantness of the thinking mind. The thinking mind is always agitated and restless. It is the core of the ego. 

Every spiritual master has claimed that reality is not to be found. It is now. And if you’re present, you can “see” it. Adi Shankaracharya has clearly mentioned in his teachings that you’re not the thoughts. You’re the one awareness in which thoughts manifest. You are the presence that illuminates now.

It is only the resistance to the present moment that creates suffering. Why? Because suffering is identification with the thinking mind that continually strives to become something better than what it is now. The thinking mind strengthens and reinforces the illusion of the separate self.

That is why you feel pleasant in meditation. In meditation, you repeatedly train the mind to return to the present moment. However, when you’re out of meditation and get on with the routine, the thinking mind again becomes dominant.

The thinking mind questions, “Why am I not in peace when I practice meditation every day for one hour?” It happens when the realization of the present moment or now is incomplete. Until the mind looks for prescriptions, methods, and techniques to become calm, it is just diverting attention from the present moment’s reality.

Maharaj can sense the psychological state of the questioner. He understands where the questions come from. The questions are coming from the ego that wants certainty and security. Perhaps, the questioner thinks that by eradicating the thinking, he can arrive at the infinite bliss of the SELF. But you see, that can be just another desire – a fabrication of the mind to attain and hold onto a state.

This is the reason why spiritual teachers never answer questions directly. They deliberately confuse the seekers. Confusion is at the helm of spiritual understanding. You see, all of these teachings can be explained in one sentence, “You are God or Brahman.” That’s it. There’s nothing more to it.

But do you really understand what it means? No, you don’t. It’s because you’re conditioning is so intense that your mind will revolt against such an idea. It will find the idea preposterous. Only when you’re confused will your attention shift to the source of confusion, and it is there you will get the answers.

Understanding the questioner’s intent, Maharaj gives a conceptual explanation of reality. He says that there’s nothing special about the present moment, but it has a unique quality that makes it stand apart from the past or future.

For example, the stroke of a clock-hand. Every stroke that happens in the now is illuminated. It has a different quality. The preceding stroke or the one to come is only a recall from memory and lacks liveliness. You can experience this for yourself. Stand in front of the clock and watch the second needle.

You will notice that every time the needle is witnessed in the now, it has what Maharaj calls the “stamp of reality.” Although it is identical to the previous strokes, there’s a newness in the present moment. Why so? Because the now is graced by the witnessing presence. 

You may be wondering how can the word “moment” mean the present? A moment implies time, and reality cannot be in time because everything in time is transient. You see, the term “present moment” is just an expression the spiritual teachings use to express now. The now is timeless. It is free from thinking, which operates only in the dead past or an imaginary future.

"A thing focussed in the now is with me, for I am ever present; It is my own reality that I impart to the present event." - Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Maharaj wants to bring the questioner’s attention to the moment’s reality. But even he knows it’s beyond him to do that. Being in presence cannot happen through the individual’s effort. Presence implies the absence of the individual. A restless mind clouded by afflicting thoughts cannot witness the bliss of presence. 

Isn’t it ironic that the mind, which itself is the source of all confusion, seeks a remedy to end the confusion? The problem is that in identification with the thinking mind, we start believing our thoughts to be the only reality. 

Suffering happens when our consciousness moves with the thinking in horizontal time. The suffering increases progressively with time, with one thought following another and creating a chain of thinking that is referred to as thinking in horizontal time.

The reality is “seen” when the chain of horizontal thinking breaks and brings our awareness to the present moment. This moment or now is free from an individual seeing anything. When this happens, the subject (mind-body complex) perceiving the objects also becomes an object in the impersonal awareness of being or I AM.

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Jagjot Singh
Jagjot Singh

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