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Living in the present
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
22 min
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When you do not expect from time what time cannot give you, you are already timeless. When you do not expect from life what life cannot give you, you are already immortal. The speciality, the magic lies not in the now, but in freedom from the entire stream that contains the past, the future and the now. You are in the present when it does not matter to you whether you are in the future, in the past, or in the now.

What does the present have to do with time?

Questioner (Q) : ‘Living in the present’ is an often used and abused term. All our actions are directed towards the future, towards achieving something. And then this question of ‘living in the present’ comes up. Suppose I have a train at 10 o’clock and I am doing some work at 7. Can I be in the present without thinking that I have a train to catch?

Acharya Prashant (AP) : ‘Living in the present’ is one of the most abused terms currently. We conflate these two—present and now. We must wisely draw a distinction. When it comes to the present, we tend to imply the present moment. We immediately link the present to time. Now, that is a very gross error. What does the present have to do with time?

What does ‘present’ mean?

What does ‘present’ mean? That which is present. That which is always. Because your perception is limited to this moment, you want to add the caveat ‘currently’. Because beyond currently it is difficult for you to really, directly see anything, so you say ‘currently’.

The present is that which is. Not that which is and would not be, or that which was not and now is. It is that which is. In this, there is no involvement of time. And if you take away time from the equation, what does ‘that which is’ imply? That which is independent of time. That which is, independent of time. That which is independent of time. That which is, that which was, and that which will remain; hence that which is unchangeable, that which is not subject to the vagaries of time—the Truth. That is the present. What does that have to do with ‘now’ or any such things?

The present means nothing except the Truth. The one, immutable, unchangeable Truth; the one all-pervasive, incomprehensible present.

Nothing except changes can happen in the present

Now, in this unchanging sky, all kinds of changes are free to happen. In fact, nothing except changes can happen in the present. Understand this carefully. That which will not change is bound to be one, it cannot be many. Hence, whatever is happening is bound to be subject to change. There cannot be many presents. There cannot be many Truths.

But within the present a lot happens, and all of that is subject to time—it arises in time and then it falls in time. The sky is there. Birds climb up and then they climb down. Clouds come and then clouds dissolve. Smoke arises and then smoke dissipates. Suns, moon, stars— even they are a matter of time; they were not always there.

The present envelopes past, future, now—everything

So, in the present there is constant coming and going; there is a flow of time. There are as many flows, streams of time as there are divisions of mind, as there are persons, as there are fragments of persons. Infinite streams of time keep flowing in the present. The present is a vast sky that encompasses these streams from their beginning till their end.

Now, what will this stream of time, from its beginning till the end, comprise? The past, the future, and that which is in between, the now. So, the present envelopes past, future, now—everything.

It is not at all a spiritual crime to think about the future

The present has no special relationship with the now. It may sound new to many of us, so I repeat—the present has no special relationship with the now. Remaining in the present, seated in the present, surrendered to the present, the now is no more significant than past or future. You are well entitled to dwell in the future. There is no problem with that. It is not at all a spiritual crime to think about the future.

Now, past, and future are all one

Even if you say that you are in the now, is your ‘now’ really independent of past and future? The now anyway contains all the past. So, even if you say you are in the now, you are anyway living in the past. It is just that the past has been sanitized. When you say past, it appears filthy; when you say present, it appears hygienic. But it is just a verbal deception.

Now, past, and future are all one. It is just that same stream of time. Timelessness does not mean that you are located in the now. It means that you are somewhere beyond the stream, not at some special point in the stream.

Contemporary self-help books and so-called contemporary wisdom literature make us feel as if there is something special about the now. This is ignorance. This is total ignorance. I repeat, the now as a point in time is no more special than any other point in time. The speciality, the magic lies not in the now, but in freedom from the entire stream that contains the past, the future and the now.

Is there time without the past?

If I ask you what is the time right now, you will tell me of a particular time. That is our definition of now. Is there time without the past? If the clock strikes 5 right now, is it not obviously coming from 4, and won’t it obviously proceed to 6? So, is there any wisdom in saying that ‘I am living in the now and it is 5 p.m. right now’?

You are in the present when it does not matter to you whether you are in the future, in the past, or in the now. That is when you are really in the present. And if you conflate the present with now, then such absurdities as you mentioned—live in the now—would necessarily arise.

Do you think a lot about the future?

You have a flight to catch at 10 p.m. and it is already 8 p.m. Some great teacher has advised us, ‘But you must live only in the now. Any thought of future is sacrilege!’ Then my question is, will that teacher pay for your flight? Because you are definitely going to miss it.

Our deliberate mischief

That is the whole fun of presence. Do not confuse presence with physicality, because physically you can be only at one point in space, at one point in time. Presence does not mean that you are here. Here and now have nothing to do with presence. Presence means it doesn’t matter where you are and what time it is, because it is all the same, because I have a solid, rock-like support beneath me that doesn’t vary with the situation—either in space or in time.

But you know what, out of ignorance, or out of deliberate mischief, confusing the present with now serves a great purpose for the ego. That purpose is consumption. However, there is something of the wise within us that does not want to provide energy to the false. When your latent tendencies start showing up and start compelling you, then your wise core does not want to fuel them. It says, ‘No!’

All desires are about consumption

If you insist that life is right now, you make that synonymous with fulfilling all your desires right now, and these two very quickly and conveniently become synonymous. If there is no future and if the future doesn’t matter, then when am I to fulfil myself? Right now. So we consume, because all desires are about consumption. Show me one desire in which consumption is not involved. It is always consumption of some kind.

So, now you do not need to pay heed to the wisdom that arises out of the heart. Now you will say, ‘No, I have only this moment to live, and I must totally fulfil myself in this moment.’ And what is this fulfilment? Consumption. This is not a fulfilment that is pre-set, pre-achieved, preordained. This is a fulfilment that you have to get through achievement, desire and consumption.

To consume you require the future

It is another matter that those who advocate this do not see that even to consume you require the future. One morsel of bread being brought from hand to mouth spans an infinity of time; even that cannot happen in the now. Universes rise and fall in the time you bring the cup to the lip; even that cannot happen in the now.

But they say, ‘No, the now is everything.’ Corporations would certainly love it. Your industrial masters would certainly love this philosophy. A power-hungry mind would certainly love this philosophy. Now is so powerful! And the ego is always famished, always feeling deprived of power. You know what power is? An ability to bring changes outside. If I can make the world move according to my wish, I would call it power.

Fear is the problem

Q : Would it be right to say that fear is the real cause of all problems?

AP : Fear is the problem. After that do you need more problems to arise? When is something a problem? Show me one problem that does not involve fear. And if it does not involve fear, if it does not excite fear in you, is it a problem? So, fear need not cause problems, fear already is the problem. That is the very characteristic of all the problems. They excite fear in you.

If you can go through any situation fearlessly, would you still call it a problem? That is the difference between situations and problems. Situations are, problems threaten. So, there is always fear involved in a problem. And if the threat is not there, it is just a situation, not a problem.

All your trouble is in the now

Q : Whenever I feel troubled by my past or future, I try to focus on my breath. That works for me, it brings me back to the present for a while. But now you are saying there is nothing like the present. It is confusing.

AP : No, you are not looking at the fact. The mind never wanders to the past and the future. The mind always remains in the now. In the now, the mind thinks about the past and the future. So, your now is always coloured by the past and the future. The mind has no capacity to go to the past or to the future; the mind invites the past and the future to the now. In fact, that is why the now is nothing except an aggregation of the past and the future. The past and the future by themselves are toothless, they cannot come to harm you. They come to harm you only in the now.

When does the future appear as terrible? Now! Does the future appear terrible in the future? Similarly, the past haunts you. Does the past haunt you in the past? When does the past haunt you? Now! So, when the past has to haunt you, it comes to the now. When the future has to trouble you, it comes to the now. So where does the trouble lie? In the now.

All your thoughts are in the now.

All your pains are in the now

Q : So, isn’t this whole theory of ‘living in the present’ escapism?

AP : Of course it is escapism. Not only can it not help you, but it is also just a promotion of consumerism of all kinds.

All your suffering exists in the now

The past cannot trouble you and the future cannot trouble you. All your troubles are experienced in the now. All your thoughts are in the now. All your speculations are in the now. All your pains are in the now. You anticipate that you will get hurt in the future. When are you suffering? Right now. You are anticipating an injury two years hence, but when are you suffering? Now!

That is why the only method is an honest observation of life as it is right now. If you can observe the now, you can observe the entire stream of time. When you observe yourself as you are right now, you will find yourself in the past, in the future, everywhere—all of them present to you in the now.

The now is where the misery lies. The now is the point of solution. Hence, freedom from now is the only spiritual goal. Can I totally forget what time it is now? Can I totally forget where I am right now? Of those sitting here, the ones aware of the time right now are not listening. And those who are conscious of who is sitting to their left and right are also not listening to me.

How to gain freedom from the now?

Freedom from the now means presence. Now you are outside the stream. To you, the stream means only the now, because the ego is always situated at one particular point. Except for that one particular point, the ego does not know anything. Oh, it can fantasize, but it cannot really be there. You might have played a hundred roles in your life, but what matters to you? The role that you are playing now. It is another thing that the role is determined by the hundred roles you have played before. But, to you, what is it that matters?

The here-and-now is your misery

Do you see how this whole thing is working? There is this entire flow of time. And in this flow, the ego gets identified and attached to one point. That point is called here-and-now. The here-and-now is your misery. You are imagining that you are a limited body sitting on a chair at 10.15 p.m. on the night of 16 October 2016. That is your misery. That is not your reality.

What does freedom from the now mean? It means that all this doesn’t matter too much to me. How does it matter whether it is 16th or 18th October? It matters in the sense that I might not have paid for the session on 18th October, so I will have to leave. But beyond that, it does not matter. Or it matters if the doctor has given me only two more days to live, so on 20th October, I might not be physically around. Beyond that, it does not matter. Death does not deserve more than that.

Do you know the relative nature of consciousness?

Q : Does ‘living in the now’ come from the conscious mind?

AP : No, not at all, because all consciousness has here-and-now as its centre. You are always conscious of things as somebody. And who are you? You are somebody here and now. That somebody changes with time and situations.

Consciousness is not absolute. Do you know the relative nature of consciousness? Whenever you look at something, don’t you look as somebody? And who is this somebody? This somebody is a product of time and situations. This somebody changes the moment the situation changes, time changes. And when this somebody changes, the world totally changes.

How do I live in the present?

Q : How do I live in the present?

AP : By not taking this question too seriously, because even this question is a matter of now. Let there be something more tempting than this question and you will forget this question. Even this question is a product of situations. And whatever is a product of situations, why bother too much about it?

The day this question becomes an integral part of your being, the day it becomes impossible for you to cast it away, we will answer it. Right now, it is situational. There comes a point when the question starts resonating in the heart. Then the question and the solution are no longer different.

Whatever is a product of situations has to be taken as situational, and hence it can be looked at in a jolly way. ‘Ah, it is all right. You came to me in the flow of time, you will go away in the flow of time, it is all right. Coincidences gave you to me, coincidences will take you away from me. It is all right.’

You are a moving question

Q : But I believe that this is a genuine problem that I am facing.

AP : Will this problem remain with you ten days later? Were you with this problem even two hours before this session? Were other things not occupying your mind? Don’t you see that so much of these questions is just thoughts that rise and fall with situations? You are asking this question only because we have right now cultivated a situation in which spiritual or intellectual inquiry can be done. A question is a real question when it is no more separable from the breath. Now you are a moving question.

We are all so curious in curious environments, and the curiosity fades away the moment dinner is served.

Time! Time! Time! Flow! Flow! Flow! Let the flow. Flow! In the flow, do not look for stuff that is permanent. Your questions are all about that which does not change. But the questions keep changing. By using a question that is so prone to changing, you want to reach the unchangeable. How is that going to happen? Do not search for the stuff in wrong places.

When you do not expect things from time that time cannot give you, you are already timeless. When you do not expect from life what life cannot give you, you are already immortal.

Two types of patience

Q : What about patience? We have lots of questions, but it seems as if we have this desire to fix something right now very quickly.

Patience involving deprivation

AP : You see, patience is of two types. One—‘the real will happen sometime in the future and I am waiting for it’. This patience involves deprivation. ‘I don’t have the real and I am waiting for it.’ Usually when you talk of patience, this is the kind of patience you refer to. ‘Something great is going to happen in the future. The flow of time, the stream will give me the unchangeable. All these changes will bring me to the unchangeable.’ That is your first type of patience.

Patience involving fullness

There is another kind of patience. That patience is patience towards the foolishness of mind. What is real is already there, but the foolish mind is unable to come to terms with it. Wait for a while and the mind will fall in place. Now you are not deprived. You are only saying, ‘It is there, already there. It is just the sense of “I” which is unable to acknowledge it. I have it in my house and I am unable to find it.’

The centre of deprivation and fullness are dimensionally different

And these are two very different things. One, ‘I don’t have it in my house, I have lost it somewhere. Let me go and launch a frantic search or file an FIR. Let me look for it out somewhere in the universe.’ That is the first kind of patience.

The second kind of patience is: ‘It is there in my house; I am just unable to locate it. I have deep faith that I already have it, but my senses and my mind are so limited and so foolish that they keep forgetting. They just cannot locate, they cannot identify it. The problem is not of achievement but of identification.’ So, have patience. The mind lives in time. In time, it will be able to identify. Remember, the mind here is not being told to search; it is only being told to identify. This is the second kind of patience.

Both involve a factor of time, but they are dimensionally different. In the first, you operate from the centre of deprivation. In the second, you operate from the centre of fullness: ‘It is there, but what to do with this foolish mind?’

Q : So, is the second kind of patience maintained by the same impatience of the mind?

AP : No, the second kind of patience is just surrender. The second kind of patience is when the mind is wise enough to accept that it is foolish.

Do you live in facts?

Accepting foolishness is great wisdom

Accepting foolishness is great wisdom. When the mind is humble enough to acknowledge from its own day-to-day experiences that its power to know, power to ascertain are utterly limited, it says, ‘Oh, I need to be more considerate towards myself.’ It is that patience.

You go to the gym. You can’t lift anything more than ten pounds. Now you know about the power of the mind and the body—limited, right? So now you have patience. Patience—not that the Truth will descend on you one day, but with your physical and mental capacities. ‘The Truth is there, but what do I do if my hands are so weak? The Truth is there, but what do I do if my eyes cannot see beyond a point?’ This is humility arising out of honest day-to-day observation.

An humble acknowledgment

Q : Is the entity that sees the limitation the same entity which is limited?

AP : No. The limited entity comes upon its limitation due to the blessings of the unlimited. Otherwise, the limited entity has fantasies about being unlimited. You can keep wandering outside the gym and assume that you are a macho man. It is only when you are powered by something beyond yourself that you say, ‘I want to go in and I want to verify what my actual strengths are. Not only will I verify, but I will also humbly acknowledge that this is the factual strength of my mind-body mechanism.’ Left to itself, the ego would never want to do that.

You require a touch of Truth

Assumptions are wonderful, as they help you maintain your dreams. They help you maintain your self-cultivated fanciful image. The ego by itself would not want to come in touch with the facts. To come in touch with the facts, you require a touch of the Truth. And that is available, so you don’t really have to explore.

Q : You mentioned that the ego can operate from either of the two centres—fullness or deprivation. Does the ego get tired of feeling deprived?

AP : Oh, the ego can fill itself up with deprivation. ‘I am full of hollowness! I am stuffed with hunger!’ That’s how smart the ego is.

In order to gain more clarity about the above topic, you can refer to Acharya Prashant's books The flying kiss to The Sky and Ananda : Happiness Without Reason .

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