I envision the spiritual landscape as an ecosystem in which teachers occupy varying niches. When one passes away, another moves in to fill the niche. Eckhart Tolle fills the niche left by Jiddu Krishnamurti: that of world-travelling teacher trying to spread the message of a new way of living to as many people as possible. Like Krishnamurti, I think Eckhart Tolle will be with us for many years.
A look through Eckharttolle.com reveals an organization devoted to making money: $25 for an audio download of “Know that I Am”, card decks, calendars, music, a bewildering array of cd and dvd boxed sets, and his books — The Power of Now,Stillness Speaks, A New Earth, and Milton’s Secret (a children’s book which I have not read). Coming soon: EckhartTolle TV with loads of Eckhart Tolle goodies for subscribers. The site does have a few YouTube excerpts for free, and a small selection of articles.
The preceding paragraphic prelude reveals my main concern about Tolle — the profiteering! A 2009 Australian two-day retreat costs $685 (USD); nets you three hours a day of Eckhart lecturing, an hour-long introduction Friday evening, plus two hours of “movement meditation” with his girlfriend. Accommodations and meals are extra and you better not try to record the lecture.
Yet almost no one seems to take Eckhart to task on his profiteering. Instead, they excuse it by pointing to his penniless past and how he never set out to make money. His big paychecks are simply payoff for his good work. How much money does one person need? Certainly he could retire comfortably from the profits off of the best-selling The Power of Now.
So here I am, harping on money-making, again. Why? Because I still maintain that anyone who has truly seen through the illusion of the world and mind, would not be interested in profiting from helping his fellow-man. Yet my feeling, when I read his material, is that Tolle has seen through the illusion. I can’t explain my conflicting reaction. My advice is to avoid the organization: don’t become a Tolle worshipper; don’t buy the calendars…. Instead, read The Power of Now, Stillness Speaks, and A New Earth, then practice his suggestions with all your heart. They may not take you all the way, but will carry you a long way down the interior road toward our True Self.
Here are some key quotes from A New Earth:
- What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought or the emotion or sense perception happens. [I consider this the core of Tolle’s teaching.]
- Ego is no more than this: identification with form, which primarily means thought forms.
- Make it a habit to feel the inner body as often as you can…. Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment, it is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego.
- Nonreaction to the ego of others is one of the most effective ways not only of going beyond ego in yourself but also dissolving the collective human ego.
- All you need to know and observe in yourself is this: Whenever you feel superior or inferior to anyone, that’s the ego in you.
- Strictly speaking, you don’t think: Thinking happens to you.
- If you don’t mind being unhappy, what happens to the unhappiness?
- It is through knowing who you are not that the greatest obstacle to knowing who you are is removed
- If you can sense an alert inner stillness in the background while things happen in the foreground — that’s it.
- Here is another way of finding inner space: Become conscious of being conscious. Say or think “I Am” and add nothing to it.
- Being aware of your breathing takes attention away from thinking and creates space.
- It is not the thoughts you are interested in, but the act of perception itself. Can you take the thinking out of the perceiving? Can you look without the voice in your head commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, or trying to figure something out? …When consciousness is no longer totally absorbed by thinking, some of it remains in its formless, unconditioned, original state. This is inner space.
- Take two or three conscious breaths. Now see if you can detect a subtle sense of aliveness that pervades your entire inner body.
- A purely intellectural recognition or belief that “I am not this form” does not help.
- Inner space also arises whenever you let go of the need to emphasize your form-identity.
- Becoming conscious of stillness whenever we encounter it in our lives will connect us with the formless and timeless dimension withn ourselves.
Eckhart Tolle is wildly popular, though I’m baffled by that as his message is generally quite confrontational. At the beginning of A New Earth he states, “The ‘normal’ state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness.” In one of his recorded lectures, he tells the audience that their life is nothing more than the space between two dates on a tombstone… and the audience laughs. It seems everyone thinks Tolle is talking about the clueless fool in the seat next to them. Perhaps Tolle’s demure personality causes some of this reaction. In a way, it’s hard to take him seriously — he’s so soft-spoken, so relaxed. If he held a gun to your head, you couldn’t imagine him pulling the trigger.
A final note: when the day comes to move deeper than Eckhart Tolle’s current teaching, look especially to Nisargadatta’sConsciousness and the Absolute. There you will find the next step.
I leave you with an excerpt from The Awakening West where Eckhart Tolle describes the moment of his realization:
…for many years I lived in a state of great fear and continuous fluctuation between states of depression and high anxiety. This was to the point of becoming almost unbearable. One night I woke up in the middle of the night, as I had many times before, in a state of even more intense dread and fear. The mind had lots of reasons why I was feeling fearful, and yet that state was continuous no matter what my external situation was. It became so unbearable that suddenly the thought occurred to me, “I cannot live with myself any longer.” That thought was the trigger for a transformation. The thought kept repeating itself many times in my head and then suddenly there was a stepping back from the thought and a looking at the thought. I asked, “Who is the ‘I’ and who is the self that I cannot live with?”
In Zen they have koans and it’s almost as if a koan spontaneously appeared in my mind. A koan’s purpose is to destroy conceptual thinking because it has no answer on a conceptual level. So, I asked, “Who is the self that I cannot live with? Are there one or two? If I cannot live with my self, who is that self?” And then, beyond thought, there was a recognition of the “unhappy me,” as I later called it, as being something completely non-substantial and fictional. Then consciousness withdrew completely from identification with that “unhappy me.” At that moment the whole structure of the “unhappy me” and its pain collapsed because the withdrawal of identification was so complete. What was left was simply beingness or presence. There was still a moment of fear. It felt like being drawn into a hole within myself, a vast whirlpool, and a realization arose in my chest, “Resist nothing.” That was the key. Then resistance was relinquished and I don’t know what happened after that.
Here’s a relatively unknown, but comprehensive site that includes several interviews of Tolle: Eckhart Tolle: a fan site
A thoughtful Satsang Report from a Eckhart lecture courtesy of Sarlo’s site (scroll down the page for the Eckhart review).
To get a feel for the criticism of Eckhart Tolle, visit this Guruphiliac page or this humorous essay on Sarlo’s site. Also, here is a YouTube video where a reporter gives a half-hearted attempt to question Eckhart about his money-making activities: