Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power of Now

Author:      Eckhart Tolle
Published:  2004
Publisher:  Hachette Australia
Paperback: 224 pages
Readers in India:

Forget the past, don't worry about the future, focus on the present and that's the key to your  inner peace and that is enlightenment. This is the core message of the book by one of the well known spiritual teacher of today - Eckhart Tolle.

To the readers well aware of the eastern philosophy of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc. there is nothing new in this book. However the way these esoteric concepts are explained in a manner which makes it intelligible to readers uninitiated in this school of thought is perhaps what has made this book an international bestseller.

Eckhart Tolle follows on the footsteps of  great spiritual masters like Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Ramana Maharishi, Rumi and states that the dominance of ego and the analytical mind in one's psyche is the root cause of all the pain in this world.  One can subdue this ego by being alive to the present moment by intently observing the workings of the mind i.e. watching the thinker and one's emotions. He then proceeds to discuss how this can be achieved.

The book set in question-answer format is a must read for anybody who values peace of mind and contentment more than anything else in this world but assailed by many doubts and struggles to achieve the same.

Key Extracts:

1. What is the power of  Now?
None other than the power of your presence, your consciousness liberated from thought forms. So deal with the past on the level of the present. The more attention you give to the past, the more you energize it, and the more likely you are to make a "self' out of it. Don't misunderstand: Attention is essential, but not to the past as past. Give attention to the present; give attention to your  behavior, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears, and desires as they occur in the present. There's the past in you. If you can be present enough to watch all those things, not critically or analytically but nonjudgmentally, then you are dealing with the past and dissolving it through the power of your presence. You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.
2. Enlightenment - what is that?
The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form.
3. And how do I get to that point of realization?
When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. You do not need it anymore. Presence is the key. The Now is the key.
4. How will I know when I have surrendered?
When you no longer need to ask the question.

Genuine and Pragmatic Questions/Doubts  
I strongly recommend reading the book to find out Eckhart Tolle's answers to the following genuine and pragmatic questions/doubts on various issues raised by earnest seekers:

Mind and Thoughts

  • What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?
  • What exactly do you mean by "watching the thinker"?
  • Isn't thinking essential in order to survive in this world?
  • Why should we be addicted to thinking?
  • I don't want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn't mind learning to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don't want to lose my mind. The gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be another species of animal.
  • It seems almost impossible to disidentify from the mind. We are all immersed in it. How do you teach a fish to fly?
  • Is it not possible to attract only positive conditions into our life? If our attitude and our thinking are always positive, we would manifest only positive events and situations, wouldn't we?

Pain and Suffering
  • Nobody's life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn't it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them?
  • You mentioned fear as being part of our basic underlying emotional pain. How does fear arise, and why is there so much of it in people's lives? And isn't a certain amount of fear just healthy self-protection? If I didn't have a fear of fire, I might put my hand in it and get burned.
The Illusion of Time
  • I can see the supreme importance of the Now, but I cannot quite go along with you when you say that time is a complete illusion.
  • But without a sense of time, how would we function in this world? There would be no goals to strive toward anymore. I wouldn't even know who I am, because my past makes me who I am today. I think time is something very precious, and we need to learn to use it wisely rather than waste it.
  • Aren't past and future just as real, sometimes even more real, than the present? After all, the past determines who we are, as well as how we perceive and behave in the present. And our future goals determine which actions we take in the present.
  • But the belief that the future will be better than the present is not always an illusion. The present can be dreadful, and things can get better in the future, and often they do.
  • I don't see how I can be free now. As it happens, I am extremely unhappy with my life at the moment. This is a fact, and I would be deluding myself if I tried to convince myself that all is well when it definitely isn't. To me, the present moment is very unhappy; it is not liberating at all. What keeps me going is the hope or possibility of some improvement in the future.
  • It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it is what makes me unhappy.
  • In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?
  • Even if I completely accept that ultimately time is an illusion, what difference is that going to make in my life? I still have to live in a world that is completely dominated by time.But I still have to pay the bills tomorrow, and I am still going to grow old and die just like everybody else. So how can I ever say that I am free of time?
  • I can see the truth of what you are saying, but I still think that we must have purpose on our life's journey, otherwise we just drift, and purpose means future, doesn't it? How do we reconcile that with living in the present?
  • How can we drop negativity, as you suggest? But if you call some emotions negative, aren't you really saying that they shouldn't be there, that it's not okay to have those emotions? My understanding is that we should give ourselves permission to have whatever feelings come up, rather than judge them as bad or say that we shouldn't have them. It's okay to feel resentful; it's okay to be angry, irritated, moody, or whatever - otherwise, we get into repression, inner conflict, or denial. Everything is okay as it is.
  • Couldn't a negative emotion also contain an important message? For example, if I often feel depressed, it may be a signal that there is something wrong with my life, and it may force me to look at my life situation and make some changes. So I need to listen to what the emotion is telling me and not just dismiss it as negative.
  • When you become this detached, does it not mean that you also become remote from other human beings?
  • I always thought that true enlightenment is not possible except through love in a relationship between a man and a woman. Isn't this what makes us whole again? How can one's life be fufilled until that happens?
  • Why should we become addicted to another person? Can we change an addictive relationship into a true one?
  • I suppose that it takes two to make a relationship into a spiritual practice, as you suggest. For example, my partner is still acting out his old patterns of jealousy and control. I have pointed this out many times, but he is unable to see it.
  • Are the obstacles to enlightenment the same for a man as for a woman?
  • When one is fully conscious. would one still have a need for a relationship? Would a man still feel drawn to a woman? Would a woman still feel incomplete without a man?
  • In the quest for enlightenment, is being gay a help or a hindrance, or does it not make any difference?
  • Is it not true that you need to have a good relationship with yourself and love yourself before you can have a fulfilling relationship with another person?
Acceptance, Surrender and Inner Peace
  • In that state of acceptance and inner peace, even though you may not call it "bad, " can anything still come into your life that would be called "bad" from a perspective of ordinary consciousness?
  • I have been practicing meditation, I have been to workshops, I have read many books on spirituality, I try to be in a state of nonresistance - but if you ask me whether I have found true and lasting inner peace, my honest answer would have to be "no." Why haven't I found it? What else can I do?
  • You mentioned "surrender" a few times. I don't like that idea. It sounds somewhat fatalistic. If we always accept the way things are, we are not going to make any effort to improve them. It seems to me what progress is all about, both in our personal lives and collectively, is not to accept the limitations of the present but to strive to go beyond them and create something better. If we hadn't done this, we would still be living in caves. How do you reconcile surrender with changing things and getting things done?
  • I can see that if I am in a situation that is unpleasant or unsatisfactory and I completely accept the moment as it is, there will be no suffering or unhappiness. I will have risen above it. But I still can't quite see where the energy or motivation for taking action and bringing about change would come from if there isn't a certain amount of dissatisfaction.
  • Letting go of resistance is easier said than done. I still don't see clearly how to let go. If you say it is by surrendering, the question remains: "How?"
  • What about people who want to use me, manipulate or control me? Am I to surrender to them?
  • I am in a situation at work that is unpleasant. I have tried to surrender to it, but I find it impossible. A lot of resistance keeps coming up.
  • Is nonresistance also to be practiced in the external conduct of our lives, such as nonresistance to violence, or is it something that just concerns our inner life?
  • What about nonresistance in the face of violence, aggression, and the like?
  • If someone is seriously ill and completely accepts their condition and surrenders to the illness, would they not have given up their will to get back to health? The determination to fight the illness would not be there any more, would it?
  • I read about a stoic philosopher in ancient Greece who, when he was told that his son had died in an accident, replied, "I knew he was not immortal." Is that surrender? If it is, I don't want it. There are some situations in which surrender seems unnatural and inhuman.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Authors:             Colin G. Bamford and
                          Stephen Munday
Published:           2002
Publisher:            Heinemann 
Paperback:         128 pages
Buy from:  
Readers in India:

This concise undergraduate level textbook intends to  provide introduction to markets for the first-time students of economics. It has seven chapters.
Chapter One looks at the nature of markets and clearly brings out  the fact that operation of markets is at the core of economics and all type of markets are just a meeting place of  buyers and sellers, consumers and producers to trade and exchange goods and services.
Chapter Two explains the concept of demand and its relationship with price in any type of market.
Chapter Three discusses the elasticities of demand.
Chapters Four introduces the concept of supply, and discusses the relationship between supply and prices, the other influences on supply, and the factors affecting the elasticity of supply.
Chapter Five analyses price determination and market equilibrium.
Chapter Six presents several examples drawn from labor, money, foreign exchange, housing and agricultural markets to demonstrate how they operate.
Chapter Seven discusses how the markets are organized and stresses the difference between market theory and the reality on account of concentration of control in the hands of a small number of producers.

A very lucidly written text supported by lots of real world examples. Packs in a lot of stuff in a slim volume of just over 120 pages.
If you want to know the basics of  market ecomonics, this is the first book you should read.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Pilgrimage

Author:       Paulo Coelho
Translator:  Alan Clarke
Published:   1995
Publisher:    Harper Collins
Paperback: 240 pages
Readers in India

One of the earliest books of  Paulo Coelho (predating his best seller The Alchemist) is a narrative of the pilgrimage he undertook in 1986 to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where as per popular belief the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. (No idea why is book then classified as a fiction by the publisher !).
However this is not a guidebook about the Road to Santiago , as the pilgrimage route is known as, but rather about the spiritual and mystical experiences which he had during this journey. 
Coelho made this 500 mile journey on foot accompanied by his guide and mentor Petrus, who taught him several spiritual exercises on the way. All these exercises are also described in detail and some of them can be tried out, though the benefits derived out of them will largely depend upon your faith in them. This is my opinion. 
One of the exercises i.e The Buried Alive Exercise asks you to imagine all the details of your being buried alive and then finally breaking yourself free from the confines of your coffin. When I read it,  I could not help remembering how Sri Ramana Maharshi the great Indian sage, as a teenager in 1896 when confronted by the fear of death, simulated the death experience by imagining his body being cremated and in a flash realizing that "The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit". This was the moment of his  Self-realization. 
Well written and well translated, though I am somewhat skeptical about some of the supernatural experiences described in this book. On the whole I found the book interesting and liked it since I more or less agree with author's beliefs and viewpoints.
Die-hard fans of Paulo Coelho  enjoy reading this book. Not sure about the other readers.

Some Extracts from the book:
  • Everything you have learned up to now makes sense only if it is applied in real life............and in life itself, wisdom has value only if it helps us overcome some obstacle. A hammer would make no sense in the world if there were not nails to be driven. And even given the existence of nails, the hammer would be useless if it only thought, 'I can drive those nails with two blows.' The hammer has to act. To put itself into the hands of the carpenter and to be used in its proper function.
  • People do have a tendency to fantasize about things that do not even exist, while they fail to learn the lessons that are before their very eyes."
  • ...., when we want something, we have to have a clear purpose in mind for the thing we want. The only reason for seeking a reward is to know what to do with that reward.
  • ...I had compared this mystical experience with another very common experience: that of learning to ride a bicycle. You begin by mounting the bicycle, pushing on the pedals, and falling. You try and you fall, try and fall, and you cannot seem to learn how to balance yourself. Suddenly, though, you achieve perfect equilibrium, and you establish complete mastery over the vehicle. It is not a cumulative experience but a kind of "miracle" that manifests itself only when you allow the bicycle "to ride you". That is you accept the disequilibrium of the two wheels and,as you go along, begin to convert the initial force toward falling into a greater force on the pedal.
  • It is not a sin to be for happiness is a personal search and not a model we can pass on to others.
  • I have walked so many miles to discover things I already knew, things that all of us know but that are hard to accept. Is there anything harder for us, my Lord, than discovering that we can achieve the power?
  • Few can accept the burden of their own victory: most give up their dreams when they see that they can be realized. They refuse to fight the good fight because they do not know what to do with their own happiness; they are imprisoned by the things of the world.
  • And when I think about it, I guess it is true that people always arrive at the right moment at the place where someone awaits them.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Moral Intelligence

    Authors:     Doug Lennick, Fred Kiel
    Published:  2007
    Publisher:   Wharton School Publishing
    Paperback: 336 pages

    Buy it at Flipkart
    This book is in three parts.
    Part One introduces the concept of moral intelligence.
    The authors define moral intelligence as, "the mental capacity to determine how universal human principles should be applied to our values, goals , and actions."
    While interviewing several successful business leaders they found that all these leaders had a moral compass - a set of deeply held beliefs and values. Hence they argue that "strong moral skills are not only an essential element of successful leadership, but are also a business advantage."  Authors believe that everyone is inherently moral, however many of us need to discover and understand our moral compass and the role it plays in their being an effective leader. Our goals and behavior should be aligned to our moral compass. A technique to identify the components of our moral compass, goals and behaviors is outlined. This is followed by an introduction to the  three essential qualities - moral intelligence, moral competence and emotional competence - which keep our moral compass, goals and behaviors aligned.

    Part Two is about developing the moral skills.
    There are four universal principles which the authors have found to be the key for effective leadership - Integrity, Responsibility, Compassion, Forgiveness.

    There is a set of moral competencies associated with each principle as described below:
    1. Integrity: Acting consistently with principles, values and beliefs; Telling the truth; Standing up for what is right; Keeping promises.
    2. Responsibility: Taking responsibility for personal choices; Admitting mistakes and failures. Embracing responsibility for serving others.
    3. Compassion: Actively caring about others.
    4. Forgiveness: Letting go of one's own mistakes; Letting go of others' mistakes.
    All these moral competencies are discussed at length along with concrete real-life examples encountered in business situations. 
    In addition the emotional competencies - Self-Awareness, Personal Effectiveness, Interpersonal Effectiveness etc. - that help us in maintaining alignment of moral compass, goals and beliefs are also discussed.

    In Part Three, the authors focus on the strategies which leaders use to create morally smart organization be it a large organization or an entrepreneurial set up. They firmly believe that the principles of leadership effectiveness - Integrity, Responsibility, Compassion and Forgiveness - are applicable to organizational effectiveness as well. 
    In addition for entrepreneurial set ups they lay out the following Five Maxims of Moral Entrepreneurship:
    1. Build a business that helps others. If your product or service doesn't make the world a better place, why bother?
    2. Choose your partners wisely.
    3. Hold on tight to your core values.
    4. Surround yourself with employees who share your values.
    5. Put your people-and your organization-first.
    The Epilogue which talks about becoming a global moral leader. It also provides an update on the conditions of the companies and leaders who demonstrated the devastating financial consequences of moral stupidities and  also those who displayed a high degree of moral intelligence in pursuit of their companies' success.

    The Appendices of the book consist of  very useful survey called Moral Competency Inventory (MCI) survey, which will help you identify your moral strengths and weaknesses. Guidelines on strengthening your moral skills are also provided. The MCI survey can also be taken free online at

    A landmark book in which the authors have put forward convincing arguments that business and ethics do go well together. It is a moral science lesson for the business leaders. A MUST READ !