The Eternal Present
Divine experiences are outside of time and space. Seemingly distant, at least in time, their truth is ever present beneath the surface restlessness of life. Paramhansa Yogananda used to say that time is like a motion picture film. It can be turned backward or forward at will by the projectionist, whose sense of time is unrelated to the episodes on the film. This simile is inexact, of course; similes always are. For if we think of God as the projectionist, time doesn’t pass for Him as the film turns. In God, no time exists; there is only now. No space exists; there is only here.
If these truths seem abstract, they gain practical usefulness when we realize that our need, in seeking God, is to rise above the consciousness of time and space. There is no necessity for us to travel here or there—to visit this holy saint or that sacred shrine—in order to realize God. If time is required to know Him, it is only because we live under the hypnosis of time. If we think it important to visit some saint, it is because we don’t see that the saint, if he is indeed a master, is consciously with us even now. As a saint in modern India said, in response to an invitation from America, “I am there already!” This is not to denigrate the very real value of pilgrimage, especially to living saints, or the need for patiently awaiting a divine response to prayer. The point is mentioned only to help readers to rise mentally above the delusion that there is anything new awaiting them at a distance, or in the future. All that we need is, with combined concentration and love, to puff away the mist of delusion that encloses our perception of reality. Time, to our minds, seems simply a matter of fact. For us, then, time has to pass for our consciousness to change. In our love for God, however—and there is no way to know Him but by love—we should tell ourselves constantly, “I have Him already!” Never can we, to even the slightest degree, be closer to Him than we are right now. He is our very Self.
Thus, whenever we find ourselves beset by trials and feel pulled downward in spirit, we should remind ourselves firmly that this suffering cannot last forever, though it may seem like forever at the time.
A man once was driving his car to go skiing. Arriving at the snow line, he applied the brakes, but didn’t realize that the tires were bald. The car skidded on a patch of ice and rammed into the side of a large bus. Though barely scratching the bus, the car was put out of commission permanently. The man, intent on continuing his trip to the snow, entered the bus. As he did so, a passenger exclaimed commiseratingly, “What a pity! You’ve totaled your car!” The man, however, dispassionate by nature, was viewing the incident as an abstract event, simply, about which he’d obviously need to do something, but not immediately. Surprised at the emotion in the passenger’s remark, he replied with a smile, “Whatever the case, I’d be happy again in another week. Why waste that time in feeling sorry for myself? I’m happy right now!”
Wisdom helps to smooth out the cresting and crashing waves of success and disappointment, victory and defeat, pleasure and pain. For with wisdom comes the recognition that every reaction is followed by its inherent opposite, even as night follows day. When delight wells up within you, tell yourself firmly, “It won’t last. I refuse to let my happiness be conditioned by anything outward.” Why let yourself be a slave to circumstance? When sorrow comes your way, similarly, tell yourself, “This inconvenience is temporary. Eventually it will yield to its opposite satisfaction.”
This doesn’t mean one should live without joy, or be indifferent to grief and the seeming injustices of life. Joy should, however, be directed inward, to its source in the Self. Thus, pleasure can actually feed the inner joy. If, on the other hand, one gives in to pleasure, his delight in it will diminish gradually, for its sustaining energy will be drained away from its source. Happiness is a projection, from within, onto the things we think we enjoy. As light dims with distance, so also does joy when it is directed outward from the Self.
Both happiness and grief should be turned inward—not toward the ego, but toward soul-perception. There, they feed the fountain of inner joy by reminding us how temporary all emotional states are …
Once the oppositional states of pain and pleasure resolve themselves into the timeless here and now, there bursts upon the soul an oceanic joy. The realization dawns that joy has been with us always, subtly hiding beneath every emotion, thought, and action. Everything we ever sought, every fulfillment we are now struggling to attain, is already with us at the core of our awareness, though it will never be found at the rim.
How can we attain perfect freedom? Above all, we must meditate regularly to establish contact with superconsciousness. As long as we identify ourselves with our present and lesser wakefulness, we will be unable to withdraw altogether from our periphery, but will remain tied to the senses and to outwardness. Our egos must be purified until, gazing at the world, we no longer intrude upon it our egoic awareness. We then see everything as a manifestation of the one, eternal Self…
Numerous are the ways to God, though they lessen in number as the mind travels inward. All of those ways demand, ultimately, that one live in the eternal present. Some seekers achieve this state by the process described thus far in this chapter: that is, by gradual elimination of the consciousness of a “there” and a “then.” Neti neti, this practice is known as in India: “Not this, not that.” As in peeling an onion one finds it reduced finally to nothing, so with the gradual elimination of “there and then” one discovers the eternal present. Time and space become eliminated altogether. What remains is divine consciousness.
There is another way for achieving that timeless and spaceless state: not by shrinking one’s ego-awareness to nothingness (which is what the practice of elimination—“neti, neti”—accomplishes), but by expanding it to infinity. In this case, one applies Paramhansa Yogananda’s description of divine vision: “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.”