Saturday, March 21, 2009

Puzzling over Tolle

Sometimes I feel like there are 2 Eckhart Tolles. The one who wrote the deeply helpful and meaningful books, and the one who profiteers and grandstands.

Reading A New Earth helped me find peace and joy in life. It awakened many glimmers of truth that I have noticed throughout my life and then put down again, lying dormant until I read through those pages. Tolle's work helped me exit a very, very painful time and find a true and deep-rooted peace within myself. If you read my blog, you notice that I refer to and quote him a lot. His books helped take me from a place of pain to a path of confidence and compassion. I am thankful to it, him, and the person who recommended it to me everyday.

Still, a few things about Tolle seem a little inconsistent. As part of my mindfulness practice, I try to stay on my toes and not follow anything blindly. Here are a few things that I question, they're pretty minor all-in-all considering how valuable his teachings are:

#1 - Profiteering
First, the Website is a blatant piece of profiteering. There's nothing to learn from the site other than where to spend money. See the cost of events and the store. Sure, everyone needs to make a living and his teachings are valuable, but I don't think he's hard up for profit. If he truly has no need for material wealth, then why the crude commercialism? And even more baffling, why do so few people call him out on it? Where is his money going?

#2 - Trend Mongering
The next thing is the relationship with Oprah -- and Oprah is another personality that is self-contradictory. On one hand, her appearance is very genuinely caring and sincere. On the other hand, huge profits and fad-peddling. Curious. Edit: As a commenter recently pointed out, who would turn down a call from Oprah for a larger platform? That would be silly. Still just a little thing.

#3 - A New Dogma

I find Tolle's message and writing superb. And I find the reach and mass appeal very heartening. It is spectacular that mindfulness, compassion, and dissolution of the ego are now household concepts -- well, for many households. However, it feels like a lot of dogma and intellectualism (forms of the ego) arise around his teachings. People are calling him a guru and spiritual teacher, too. He pays lip service to not wanting these things, but he's not succeeding at it. Not necessarily his fault, but... (in Japanese it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition).

#4 - Bossiness
His message, while laden with truth and compassion, is highly confrontational. How do people accept the forcefulness of his writings and words? I understand that he is trying to be non-equivocal, I'm just surprised that this doesn't irritate more people.

#5 - Obnoxious Affectation
The final mystery to me is why of all people did he become mainstream? His voice, mannerisms, and dress seem highly affected to me. Way too soft and too soothing. I cannot sit through a video of his, I find it spoils his writings for me. Edit: Yes, this is a petty nit. It's just me being honest about where I am.

I looked for others with similar thoughts, and found a couple others who also have gripes: has an objective review and Guruphiliac slings mud as usual, though Guruphiliac has not read Tolle's books. In general though, there are people who ignore him and write him off or revere him unquestioningly.

Despite these points of confusion, I still find the writings of Tolle incredibly poignant, relevant, and heartfelt. I hope that there's an answer to some of these things. Has anyone else wrestled with these things? Do you have a perspective that could help?


  1. Speaking of finding peace and reaffirming truth I recommend "A Happy Death" by Albert Kamu if you haven't already read it.

  2. Thank you for the recommendation. I'll have to check that out. Btw, thanks for the pi last week.

  3. I guess the commercialism thing bothers me somewhat...though I wonder if it's not just my jealous ego. I too have found Tolle helpful to a degree no other writer has been. I do think he has a gift for this form of teaching. I believe his message is vital to humankind and if he believes that as well, which seems to be the case, I wonder if he just has made the decision to go the traditional Western commercial route as a way of reaching the maximum number of people. If Oprah calls, I can't blame anyone for taking her up on her offer. She reaches millions. Still, I'd like to hear that he's set up some kind of endowment or somehow donated his wealth to the poor. It's curious that he doesn't come out and address this directly. Maybe he believes it would be for his ego gratification and it's best to just let us wonder. Anyhow, I think his teaching is a wonderful gift to us all. Maybe he drives a 1991 Taurus...

  4. Eckhart Tolle sells his materials and services, but at least he doesn't scam people like faith healers and many others do. Possibly he isn't putting new ideas on his site because there may be another book coming. If you judge people by their affectations, you miss out on a lot of great minds. I read an old book by Hugh Prather which covered most of what Eckhart Tolle covers.

  5. why do people assume a spiritual teacher has to be poor for their message to be authentic? why is that thought comforting? i think it says much about us than it ever would the teacher.

    tolle goes to great lengths to explain that teachers will use us in every way possible until we recognize that we don't want to be used any more. he never has said he is exempt from employing that tactic.

    it might be due to a**hats like donald trump that we assign shallowness with riches, but the truth is that humility has nothing whatever to do with material gain and how much one has or doesn't.

    much better, i think, to watch tolle and see if we begin to hear of abuses. i've heard none so far, have you?

    another thing. if ever i'm having trouble with a teacher in my head - 'he's biased, he isn't open, he's pushy and forceful, etc.' i find the true problem is some aspect of my own make-up that i'm having trouble accepting to resolving. it has never been a teacher's nor any other person's problem, it's anyways me.

  6. This kind of thinking bothers me... you already his said how positive his writings have been to your life, but because his personal life doesn't live up to your expectations of how a spiritual teacher should live, now you have a problem with him?

    & the complaints about his personal style (affectations) are very petty... I'd recommend re-reading the PON & get past such minor quibbles.

    His writings have pretty much saved my life & that is no exageration.. if I could I would lavish all the riches of the world on him, though I don't personally believe he cares. But if he does, so what? That doesn't affect my life.. all I know is, this world & my life, would be a much worse place without his words.

    Thank you Eckhart.

  7. Oooh, a little controversy is shaking up the comments feed here. Though, I think this is more a sign of my miscommunication than any disagreement. Blame my poor writing. People assume that I'm hating on Tolle - Far from it!

    First, Thank you for the comments. I love that you all want to help me and each other.

    Second, I acknowledge that I have ego involved. I put that in the title to be mindful about it in everything that I post and that I write. I honestly feel that at the time of writing the post that I was questioning more than judging, though.

    Again, thank you for the comments. They definitely demonstrate that I didn't quite get my wording correct. I think very highly of Tolle and his message. I really tried to convey that in this post. I have a few minor nits that puzzle me. The response that I've had on this post has been overwhelming. I realize that I do come on a little too strong... that's more of me trying to favor brevity than trying to bash.

    I'm definitely not throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. Tolle has helped me tremendously. His writings continue to help me. I recommend _A_New_Earth_ as one of the most important and helpful books of our day. His writing is my primary inspiration for this blog... which I assumed readers would know by this point, though I'm getting new readers, now. Hoorah!

    Mark Twain offers a piece of wisdom that I take seriously: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." I have a corrollary. I also pause and reflect when I find that I really like a certain teaching, so I'm mindfully questioning what I learn from Tolle.

    Something that a few of you have brought up: Tolle has not been called out on any scams or abuses. He feels completely on the up and up to me, and I commend him for that.

    @Richard Crowson - I think we're on the same page. "What if Oprah called me?" is a very interesting question for contemplation.

    @guy from Reddit - Here here! I'll add Hugh Prather to my reading list.

    @Fuzzmello - I'm a recovering materialist myself, and realize that I'd just be a pot calling the kettle black. That wouldn't help me nor others. I could be absolutely wrong about his pricing, but I see his lecture prices on his Web site, and wonder why he needs the money. It seems to me that _reach_ would be the top priority, and perhaps a sliding pay scale is in effect. Do you know?

    @Anonymous - I apologize that my line of thinking bothers you. I think we got off on the wrong foot. Let me step back. Hi, I'm Ed. I'm trying to figure things out here every day. Sometimes I write clumsily, sometimes my ego is pulling my strings. You're right, some of my comments are petty; they're nit picks on things of little consequence. (hangs head, eyes downcast) We have a disconnect, though: I don't "have a problem" with Tolle. Far from it! I'm merely sharing my puzzlement for group discussion. I'm a huge supporter of Tolle myself, I simply need to question. You noticed that I said that I really have been helped by Tolle -- that's the high order bit for me.

    Anyway, I hope that that clears things up. I hope that you continue to challenge me, keep me honest, and hold me to a high standard.

    And, I echo the sentiment: Thank you, Eckhart Tolle.

  8. Thanks to the folks who have pointed out that my message isn't clear. I've made some minor edits to the post to clarify that I'm a huge fan of Tolle, just questioning things. I think we can all agree that following blindly would be foolhardy.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    Matthew 23:24

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. I haven't heard much about Tolle over the last year or so. If his message is collecting dust, that's a shame, because it is powerful. What I see feels pretty commercial, though this doesn't mean that it's unauthentic in anyway...

  13. I came across this blog because I have recently been feeling the same way! And I feel you've been misused in some of these comments--as Tolle himself says, the mind is a tool to be used. I don't believe you should stop questioning at any time. To not question is to give yourself over to a cult, in my opinion.

    At any rate, thank you for posting this. I, too, find Tolle's work comforting (though nothing new, really), but it is disturbing to me that this message has become an empire.

  14. Thanks to the anonymous poster. We'll keep taking what works and trying things out for ourselves. I wish you much joy.

  15. Well I have to agree with Ed Essey on all points about Tolle. I have held him in the highest esteem, and his books were of great help to me, and I feel he, among others including Easwaran, Gandhi, Buddha,and Krishnamurti have all helped me on my path. But after seeing his website, I realize that, in my case, I need to take selected teachings that work for me from each mentor, each spiritual leader, and utilize them inm y practice, and discard those that don't. Tolle's website is in the discard pile. The materialism of Tolle's website shocks me, so I have become more cautious in accepting his teachings, and am turning to other sources. This blog has led me to Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi, the next spiritual leaders in my path to awareness.

    Thank you Ed for this a sense, it offers spiritual companionship with like minds - something I have not found among any friends, family, or aquantences.

  16. I googled ET + 'commercialism' and found this blog. Reason I googled this is that I laughed at the ads trying to get me to give money to Ekhart Tolle that have been popping up ever since I googled him once. I think it is pathetic that every time I turn on my computer now, there is ET with his little ET beard, thin lips, big nose and elfin eyes beseeching me for money under the banner, "What if Ekhart Tolle were available right now to help with your spiritual awakening?" - ha ha, then you click on it and it tells you what you get for $14.95, 76.95, etc. How ridiculous! Seriously sad. I am cured of this teacher. Thanks!