The following is Part 3 of an interview with Eckhart Tolle, conducted by Josh Max at the Omega Institute.
Josh Max: Speaking of weapons of mass destruction; what do we do about that? What do we do about countries which wish our country great harm? What's an alternative if the other side is bent on suicide, as the men of 9-11 were? If you have a vast army at your disposal, what do you do?
Eckhart Tolle: I don't know what I would do, because I can only know what is right in an actual situation which demands a response. It's very hard when you look at hypotheticals. What we can do is look at the dysfunction in its collective aspects that we're witnessing now.
We can see, for example, what's happening in the Middle East with the eternal insane conflict between Israel and Palestine. We can see how each faction is totally convinced that their mental position is the correct one. Each faction sees itself as the victim of the other. There was a writer I read last year who said each side cannot recognize any narrative other than their own; that's also true. Narrative means the story through which you interpret reality.
People have collective stories which are mental perspectives and mental positions. Of course, when they explain it to you, it sounds absolutely right. Then you go to the other story, and they explain it to you, and that sounds absolutely right. Both are so entrenched in their narrative, their mental positions and their identifications with mental positions that they cannot see anything else. That really symbolizes the very thing that lies at the core of human dysfunction.
There you see it expressed collectively. An inability to hold truth in your consciousness. To rise above polarities, and say, here's this perspective which is ours, and I can also see the other perspective which is yours. If both could do that—even if one party could do that—there would be an end to the madness. It only gets perpetuated by two. You can see the same in personal relationships, you can see the same in marriages that exist in a state of warfare. Both are entrenched. There is this ongoing need to be right. What that really ultimately means is they are identified with the thinking. They have not stepped out of the structure of thought—their mental position, their thought position. The way out of the madness is to recognize thought as just thought. To see your own stream of thinking, to see that no thought can encapsulate the entire truth in any situation. You have to step out of thought to see that. To become the awareness outside of thought. Some people are driven out of thought out of suffering, others can step out of thought because they see that thought is dysfunctional. So we see then that terrorists that inflict suffering on innocent people, kills thousands, blows himself up—how is it that he cannot see what he is doing?
He cannot see because he has reduced other human beings around him to a mental concept. He puts a mental label on other human beings or groups of humans or whatever he calls them—infidels, evil. Once you have conceptualized another human being, covering up their essential aliveness, you also do it to yourself. You become identified with your own self concepts of who you are, because you are right, you are the believer, you are in possession of the truth. You can then inflict acts of violence on other humans without feeling anymore because you've already desensitized yourself, you've deadened their aliveness. So violence becomes very easy when you only operate from the level of thought. Thought plus very destructive emotion that accompanies those destructive thought patterns. That's what drives the terrorist. He truly, as Jesus puts it on the cross, "They know not what they do."
In spiritual terms, they are completely unconscious. Unconscious means identified totally with thought. You reduce reality to a conceptual reality. A lot of violence arises in that way.
Terrorists are not the only ones who are unconscious. The United States manufactures an enormous amount of totally senseless weaponry. Biological, chemical. They manufacture the most fiendish weapons—if they ever used them it would be hell on earth. Why are they working on this? They are intelligent scientists, thousands of them, the government sponsors itself sponsors it. What is the purpose in creating such weapons if the use of such weapons would create hell on earth? Haven't they got enough weapons already? So it applies; "they know not what they do." You can see human unconsciousness in so many forms. You can see it very clearly in the terrorists. Sometimes it's easier to see the madness in others—but we also have to see it in ourselves.
JM: How does one do that? How do you do it?
ET: Well, primarily it needs to be done on personal level. For example, for me, to see how identified I am with my own mental position when I'm talking to someone when I'm putting forth and idea or opinion and that opinion is questioned by the other person. They might say, "No, you're wrong—that's not how it is." If I can then observe the violence with which I defend my position, I'm actually becoming more conscious because by observing it, something else is arising that is not conditioned thinking, but awareness.
JM: As opposed to saying, "No, you're wrong."
ET: Yes, because when people are engaged in being right, defending their mental position, an enormous amount of defensiveness and violence comes already. Why do two people become so agitated, in some cases even violent, when they're defending a mental position? Because that's what they derive their sense of self from. Thought has become invested self. That's the very essence of dysfunction—that humans derive their sense of self through thought. This is a delusion, because who they are is so much deeper than thought. They can only realize that when they detach from their thinking and observe their thinking.
Who or what is it that is able to observe that you are identified with a mental position? Who or what is it in you that is able to notice the emotional violence that comes as you start to defend your own position? You can then ask, "Wow, what's going on? What am I defending?" You are defending an illusory sense of self—your sense of self and your mind structure.
That very dysfunction, which looks relatively harmless on a small scale, is the very same dysfunction that drives the terrorist. So it's only in yourself that you can detect it. And if you see it, you see the root of human dysfunction and madness; identification with thinking. But the moment you see it, you are already one foot out of it. The seeing of it is not part of the dysfunction. So in other words, when you see that you are mad, you are no longer mad.
That's the arising of something new in humanity. I sometimes call it the unconditioned consciousness. But it is also a field of stillness, where you see the torn roots of the human mind. Once it emerges, it's a process that cannot be reversed. It emerges more and more fully, and you become less and less identified with the structure of thought. And then thought is no longer dysfunctional. It is actually beautiful. It can be used for helpful purposes. It's wonderful—you are no longer looking for an identity in the structure of thought because now you know that who you are is deeper. You are the very awareness prior to thought. You are the stillness that is deeper than thought, much vaster than thought. We call it "stillness" but it's just a word. We've reduced it to something. It's more than that. It's consciousness itself, unconditioned. Which is the essence of each human being. It's that when you meet anybody in a state of open, aware attention, without labeling them mentally or judging them, then that you are already operating as a current or conscious awareness between human beings.
That would dramatically change human relationships. When aware presence operates between human beings, they are no longer dominated by mind structures. On a deepest level, that is also love. That is the only dimension from where love can come into this world.
Read part 1 of this interview
Read part 2 of this interview