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The Failure of Now: How Eckhart Tolle Coddles the Status Quo and Why it Matters

The following is a combined version of two posts I wrote recently about Eckhart Tolle on my home blog. Given how popular Tolle is, even amongst Buddhist practitioners, I think it’s worthwhile to consider what he’s up to. Feel free to check out the original posts and the comments that followed.

Fellow 21st Century Yoga contributer Be Scofield has a provocative, new essay out on the limitations of Eckhart Tolle’s spiritual writings, particularly when it comes to addressing systemic social issues. Some folks just roll their eyes when they see the name Tolle, but I think if you want to understand the modern, American spiritual landscape, you gotta pay a bit of attention to his work. Before we go on to look at a few points in Be’s essay, I want to state where I stand on Tolle.

First off, I don’t think he’s a charlatan. The guy seems to me to have some clear insight into how our minds work, and the ways in which humans get trapped by their thinking and habit patterns. In addition, he has figured out how to bring together elements of different religious traditions in a way that speaks across them and beyond them. I’d say this is a positive, especially in terms of spreading insights to the masses. I also like the guy’s general optimism about humanity’s potential, and that he sees practices like meditation as being a means towards awakening on a larger, collective scale.

On the flip side, like Be, I disagree with Tolle’s sense that “inner work” alone will somehow solve the systemic misery that plagues so many in this world. Having read a fair amount of his writing, and listened to some of his talks, I find his general approach to be far too individualistic in focus for my taste. Not only is social and political action downplayed or dismissed outright, but you rarely hear talk about communities, serving others, or anything else associated with being together in groups. Just as is true of a lot of American convert Buddhism,in Tolle’s writing you can’t help but notice how heavily individual psychology and psychological theories color what’s being said.

Beyond all that, there’s the fierce, capitalist machine behind Tolle’s work to contend with. Nearly everything this guy touches these days is being turned into a product intended for “your awakening,” and I don’t get the sense that he has any problem with that. In fact, I think the packaging of Tolle as a non-threatening spiritual guru has not only lead to wildly higher sales and spreading of his message, but also wholesale rejection of his work by those like myself actively resisting capitalism, colonialism, and the commodification of spiritual practice.

Along those lines, let’s take a look at a few paragraphs from Be’s essay:

In A New Earth Tolle goes so far as to claim all of the atrocities associated with Communism could have been avoided had their been a shift in their “inner reality, their state of consciousness.” Again, his absolutism in regards to the power of internal transformation is quite extreme. If communists would have only stilled their minds, connected to their bodies and dis-identified with their false egoic self he believes countless lives would have been saved. It’s important to understand that when Tolle is referring to shifting inner consciousness, he is specifically talking about stilling the mind, not shifting inner social or political consciousness. Of course the issues are far more complex than Tolle presents. No simple solution like cultivating presence, stillness or embodiment would have changed a profoundly complicated socio-political experience that spanned vast territory and numerous decades. Furthermore, he falsely believes that spiritual awakening supports his social and political positions.

Tolle is suggesting that what communists needed and what environmental polluters need is internal spiritual transformation – not education, training, relationship building, diversity training, political understanding, environmental awareness or anything else. Why? Because Tolle believes in an all-knowing divine power that once channeled knows exactly what to do. This universal intelligence is unfolding and working through humans. If only environmental polluters and communists were to connect with God the world would be a much better place. For those who successfully do, they are contributing to more joy, peace, creativity and happiness on the planet. Spirit is unfolding in a direction and it supports Tolle’s social and political agenda and reflects his social location as a wealthy, heterosexual, white male with $4 million in the bank and a Jaguar in his driveway.

Social positioning, and specifically a lack of critical consciousness around his position in society, are major players in Tolle’s philosophy. It’s so much easier for folks from privileged backgrounds to focus on “inner” transformation, and to dismiss addressing systemic social issues. Not only do they benefit from the status quo, but they’re are less likely to see how the status quo creates suffering in their own lives, let alone anyone else’s. Be’s absolutely right to point out this failure in Tolle’s work to critically examine social positions, and how they’re plugged into systems built on patterns of injustice and deliberate oppression.

However, I have to say that the qualities Tolle focuses on folks cultivating – being present now, joy, stillness, and general awareness – are pretty lacking amongst social activists as a whole. There’s decidedly too much ego, reactivity, and unexamined motives driving individuals within political and social movements, and also the collective actions of the groups they belong to or associate with. Instead of figuring out how to place the outrage, sadness, and fears into the furnace, where they might be transformed into wisdom and wise action, too often social movements either explode or sputter into the ground through power grabs, ego battles, and undigested patterns of greed, anger and hatred.

Which leads me to where I disagree with Be. Be writes:

The reason, of course, that environmental experts don’t recommend mind-body practices like meditation or yoga in order to stop worldwide pollution is because they are entirely unrelated.

This is just the opposite extreme to what Tolle’s arguing, no more or less dualistic in my opinion. And while I don’t think everyone involved in social justice movements needs to suddenly become a yogi or meditator, it sure wouldn’t hurt for more folks practicing these things to be a part of such movements. And furthermore, that a general culture of cultivating qualities like compassion and awareness be normalized amongst activists, regardless of the forms taken to bring about those qualities.

The systems developed under colonialism, and patriarchy before it, rendered a myriad of things separate in social consciousness and practice. Foremost amongst these being the creation of the categories “spiritual” and “secular,” and then the slow depositing of various activities and ways of thinking into either box. Perhaps that period of separation was helpful at some point in human history, but it’s clearly become little more than a driver of oppression and misery. And when I say that, I’m not saying that everyone should be “spiritual” or something. What I’m saying is that the categories have become calcified, to the point where the vast majority of folks fail to see them as expedient means at most.

What am I talking about here, you may be asking? I’ll try an offer some concrete examples. Take a person’s view of the environment, specifically those who aren’t concerned about exploitation, global warming, or human impacts on the planet. Or who have some concern, but whose greed or ignorance override that concern.

Person X

Claims the identity of secular, and rejects religion and all forms of spirituality. Elevates human reason above all other qualities a person might possess. Sees the point of life to fulfill your needs and desires. Might have some concerns about his children’s future, for example, but is mostly focused on how to have a “good life now.” (One of Tolle’s limitations, by the way, is his obsession on “the now” and failure to temper that with something like a seven generations approach to viewing and acting in the world.) Enjoys “nature, but feels humans are “better” or “smarter” somehow.

Person Y

Claims the identity of Christian. Views the planet as a God given resource to be used to fulfill human needs and desires. Believes the afterlife in heaven is where “the good life” truly is, and that life on Earth is mostly about being trials and tests by God. As such, she isn’t really concerned about the future of the planet, or even her children/grandchildren because what’s important is their salvation, not the preservation of the Earth.

Person Z

Claims the identity of spiritual/not religious. Sees the popularization of meditation, yoga, and other “consciousness” practices as the key to a better life for all. Any concerns about the future of the planet are turned into a messianic approach to spreading the “good news” of yoga, meditation, shamanism, and the like. Pays little attention to politics and systemic social issues, seeing all that as being “lower vibration” stuff.

The main point behind these rough, incomplete sketches is the sense that solidifying around the deepest level separation of spiritual/secular can lead to some disastrous consequences for (in this case) the planet. And it’s not just about folks on the extreme messing it up for everyone else. Each of has this dualism playing out in our lives because it’s in the cultural water, and pretty much all of us taken a drink to some degree or another. So you may not be an oil tycoon profiting off the tar sands, but odds are your daily actions are still negatively impacting the planet in some manner or another.

Which brings us to love. And our collective struggle to understand and embody it in it’s various forms. Be writes:

Love isn’t progressive, socialist or limited to any political position. People of all ideological persuasions fall in love, make love, experience love and act in love. Is global transformation really based on raising the “love” vibration on the planet? After all, Glenn Beck’s latest gathering was called “Restoring Love.” There was lots of “love” amongst Protestant and Catholic Christians in Nazi Germany. Love for spouses, children, families and God. People were kind, caring and compassionate to members of their own kind while turning a blind eye or supporting to the horrific crimes of the state. What frequency did their love vibrate on and how did it matter in the larger scheme of things? Love is not the sole property of either progressives or conservatives. If both a pro-choice and a pro-life activist group based all of their methods, techniques and actions in love who would win?

One of Be’s biggest concerns in this piece, and in others I have seen, is the view that cultivating certain qualities and/or doing certain spiritual practices are THE means needed to get to a more progressive, inclusive society for all. I share that concern, and agree that practices like yoga can be used by anyone without having a transformational impact on their politics and social views, and that simply cultivating qualities like presence or basic compassion aren’t nearly enough to liberate the world from systems of oppression and injustice.

But love. Love has the capacity to blow through separations of all sorts. To break through and heal the kinds of thinking that create solidified divisions in the first place. It’s not limited to, nor even necessarily represented by, the forms Be presents in the statement above. It’s easy to get cynical about something like the power of love to liberate folks from systems of oppression, just as it’s easy to get suckered by some limited form of love (like love of family or country) as the recipe for a better world.

If anything, the intersection of social justice and love is a koan, one we might take devote ourselves to, even if we never gain any final resolution.

I think Tolle places too much faith in our individual capacity to overcome a hell of a lot of social conditioning on our own, and that millions and millions of people doing this will somehow break through all the collective conditioning and oppressive systemic structures that we currently face. He fails to recognize or acknowledge that even our greatest spiritual/social heroes – Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. – still had issues with social conditioning that impacted their work. Awakening didn’t wipe out internalized sexism, for example. It took multiple lobbying efforts to get the Buddha to allow women into the original sangha, and I’m not convinced they ever held truly equal standing under his watch. The original Buddhist sangha was basically doing on a smaller scale what Tolle sees as the key to our evolution as a species and yet women had to beg to gain base level acceptance.

So, while I don’t expect someone like Tolle to brilliantly break down capitalism, or advocate for radical action, I do think it’s entirely fair to do what I’ve done here. Because this guy has an influence on some of the very people who have the most power and influence in our societies today. And even a little movement from him towards supporting collective social action and directly challenging systems of oppression could go a long way.

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Comments (35)

  • Bryan Wagner

    Just a thought.
    So the socially condition “collective” will design paradigms to solve the problem of social conditioning?
    l continue to wait for an answer to that question.
    Perhaps what a lot of “spiritual leaders” Whatever that means, simply pointed to the fact that we cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. So how many conditioned minds would it take to not have a conditioned mind?
    In Loving Kindness.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Yes. Reminds me of the famous quote from Audre Lorde “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” It’s a predicament, how to break through these old, tangled issues. I wish I had more answers as to what is needed. All I know is that focusing solely on what’s “inside” or solely on social issues doesn’t seem to cut it. The root-level separations can’t be healed or transformed through more separation.

  • Murray Reiss

    But Love. Let me quote William Blake for a minute:
    “Love to faults is always blind,
    Always is to Joy inclined.
    Lawless, winged and unconfined
    And breaks all chains from every mind.”
    He also claimed that “A tear is an intellectual thing.”
    Or, in other words, how to recognize love in action? Well, does it go beyond whatever law you’re confined by? Is it breaking the chains from your mind?

  • Bryan Wagner

    Just a thought.

    A word, a concept, often used as a type of answer.
    Yet has multiple and confusing definitions subject to interpretation.
    Has been used in so many ways that it has, to some extent, lost definition.
    It has such a general meaning that to use it as a solution simply has no meaning in the social matrix.
    As used internally expressed it may have some value.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    ” how to recognize love in action? Well, does it go beyond whatever law you’re confined by? Is it breaking the chains from your mind?”

    I really like these questions. I think the problems Bryan points out with the word “love” can be addressed by sitting with questions like this. Living with questions like this.

  • Jeff

    Nathan, your commentary goes right to an issue at the heart of engaged Buddhism, namely the relationship between personal spiritual evolution and humane social revolution. For me, you can’t have one without the other.

    Of course, you might expect to see societal benefits as individually cultivated mindfulness starts to percolate outward person by person. However, if one is primarily focused on developing gentleness and equanimity with folks encountered during our day-to-day routine, those ripples only travel so far. We have all seen how shortsighted and potentially reactionary Buddhist doctrine can be when pimped out by a particular ethnic group or nation.

    For most Americans, and for many Buddhists, nearly every waking moment is saturated with not-so-subtle cultural reinforcement of egoism, patriotism, and acquiescence. Whether we think we’re paying attention or not, hierarchical relations at work and the content and style of news, advertising, entertainment, and public discourse relentlessly shape our attitudes toward social status, race, and gender, pressuring us to go along to get along.

    Progress in both the soul’s and the social journey will require in-the-moment loving kindness and the political awareness and commitment to stand alongside people across town and across the world whose daily struggles to survive are nearly impossible for us to imagine. Reconciling these practices may be facilitated by way of koan or dialectics or both, but it will not happen without going outside to act.

    Perhaps one definition of “love” is making human connections to change unjust conditions, developing a collective consciousness to enable empathic and interdependent action at a community or global level. Naturally, it is impossible to know exactly how this can happen ahead of time, or what the eventual perfect society is, or even how the Eightfold Path might mesh with the confrontational politics of anti-capitalist movements. We will learn the answers by stepping out into the dusty colonial streets, cruel prisons, and warming Earth with the many sisters and brothers who are fighting there now.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    “For most Americans, and for many Buddhists, nearly every waking moment is saturated with not-so-subtle cultural reinforcement of egoism, patriotism, and acquiescence.” My post today considers this point in terms of sangha in the U.S.

    “Perhaps one definition of “love” is making human connections to change unjust conditions, developing a collective consciousness to enable empathic and interdependent action at a community or global level. ” I like this a lot. It makes sense to me to view love as multi-dimensional, with more than one definition. I also agree that stepping into action, putting the teachings into practice in the world, is how we see if they “mesh” or not in a particular situation. It’s kind of scary to not have the answers beforehand, but that’s how life really is anyway.

  • Bezi

    “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”


    also, to the question of identifying love in action: I think Dr. Cornel West put it perfectly:

    “justice is what love looks like in public.”

  • Matt

    Tolles claim that all of the atrocities associated with Communism could have been avoided had their been a shift in their “inner reality, their state of consciousness” is both true and absolutely meaningless. Its like saying “if eryone would be nice to each other, there would be no more wars” – thats also true but meaningless as this is just not the situation we are in . Its merely wishful thinking like it permeates a lot of New Age spirituality. I would say its a failure to acknowledge and confront the dark side, in ourselves and in this world.
    The russian revolutionaries had a good cause and likely good intentions. The could not, however, have practised in what was was then a late feudal slave society. Man has to stop being chattel before he can practice. Even the Buddha said its impossible to practise in a hell realm. Now, a full hundred years later, people in Russia can practice freely for the first time ever, and they do in increasing numbers. So history works slow. The western enlightment was a kind of social awakening too – as you say individual and social awakening are inseperable. To me, right perception and right action clearly mean that if you live in a society (i.e. you are not a hermit), you have to try and right the wrongs there are. Otherwise you will damage your own mindfulness. Compassion means also to stop the cruelty of others against the ones that are not in a position to defend themselves properly. In this Capitalism, that means pretty much everyone without ownership of property.

  • Matt

    Another thing that just appeared in my mind (not about Tolle, though, but about your concern of individual practice and social action): To do only social action without any awareness that the evil resides right in ones own mind will be entirely a projection of all the disavowed parts of oneself. George Bush’s and Lenin’s world view were exactly the same in this respect, and, as Camus writes in “The Rebel” this will always lead to murder in the end.

    But to do only spiritual practice without concern for the world we exist in would be just as futile (and that is what Carl Gustav Jung wrote about the conditions in India: a country focused too exclusively on spirituality, neglecting to care about the world). We are this world. The awakened mind, even if liberated, sees suffering very clearly. To neglect to do something about social conditions that create suffering is to neglect the awakened mind.

    The Buddha himself taught social transformation : The entire Vinaya is about how to create a healthy, democratic and thriving society of practicioners: Very few personal posessions, no hierarchies, all decisions done by a council of all sangha members.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    “The Buddha himself taught social transformation : The entire Vinaya is about how to create a healthy, democratic and thriving society of practicioners: Very few personal posessions, no hierarchies, all decisions done by a council of all sangha members.” Yes, I think this element is often missed or overlooked. The very ways in which the original sangha came together, and how folks practiced together and interacted with others outside of the immediate sangha, were quite a radical departure from the norms of the day.

    I totally agree with you about the failure to face the dark side amongst many New Age and spiritual folks. There’s less of this amongst Buddhists from what I’ve witnessed, but when it comes to actually engaging the messiness in the world and dealing with collective issues, Buddhists aren’t doing so hot on the whole either.

  • Stephen Malagodi

    When I was much younger, one night watch the incomparable Dick Cavette show, Mr. Cavette asked his guest, the Guru Maharj Ji, “What would you say to Hitler?”

    Ji replied, “I would tell him to meditate.”

    Tolle has no better answer. We should consider him to be what he is, a talented and somewhat insightful author of popular spiritualism. There is much to criticize in his work, as there is in the work of many others.

    Not worth spending a lot of time on.

    In our time, ignorance is maintained through censorship and distraction. Let us not be distracted.

  • Bob

    “The failure of now”
    I love that as a kind of Anti poem. However it seems a little unfair to pick on Tolle. Of course he is politically about as tepid as yesterdays bathwater but that’s kind of the thing these days for us highly privileged spiritual folk.

  • Susmita

    The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance;
    it is the illusion of knowledge.
    – Daniel J. Boorstin

    We need to understand what is the true power of the people and communities around the world and how the basis of that power of the people got shortchanged by systems and structures of colonization under the placebo called democracy.

  • Dub Riley

    Hello. I came today searching for skeptic proof of Eckhart’s shortcomings. I guess I’m the guy with the lamp torch, always looking for an honest man.

    Most guru’s in my life get exposed at some point, usually for sexual stuff.

    Yes, we can all find the stillness and learn that the river at the base of consciousness is indeed who we are. We can learn or observe or at least be told, that to identify with circumstance and then call that self at that moment, who identifies oneself as the person who “owns” or is trapped by that circumstance, as “me,” is problematic.

    We can debate ego, whether free of it or consumed by it. To judge others with various levels of symptomatic degrees of ego related problems, is a favorite pastime of “searchers” of truth.

    Social activism is a pastime too. All is choice. What costume a person chooses to wear is all in the line of daily choices. To work, to steal, to lie, to sit quietly, to write, to cry, to help others, to go where no man has gone before–these are choices. None more astonishing than another. No one can judge another justly. But choosing to judge is also a pastime.

    In 13.8 billion years many events have occurred. Surely that river which runs under it all has been there for some long part of those events, if not all, from the beginning.

    Can the fraction of a nano-second really be worth getting all worked up over? Yes, if that is your choice.

  • Nathan

    Dub Riley, your comment sounds like it’s coming from an actor delivering a monologue on a stage high above the rest of us.

  • Maria Sontana

    Well, not everyone in the world can become highly conscious and not all at the same time. Everyone is at some place different within themselves. If everyone was in a such a high level of consciousness all at the same time, there wouldn’t even need to be an earth at all. The Vedic teachings break down a well functioning and ideal society. Brahmins are the leaders in spiritual consciousness, Kshatriyas are the political heads, leaders and military might, Vaishyas are the merchants and business people, sudras are the hardworking labourers, craftsmen and serving roles, and mlecchas are the outsiders who don’t belong to a particular mold. In a well functioning society Kshatriyas who are gifted to lead, organize , protect take advice from Brahmins so that in their line of duty they will do what is fair for the collective. As the age on the earth according to ancient texts is a fallen one, we don’t see the varnas acting in any balance at all. Instead of Brahmins advising Kshatriyas,( and by advice, I don’t mean advising Kshatriyas how to perform their skill, but how to do it righteously and justly), there are a lot of Vaishyas leading because they have all the money, using Kshatriya force in the wrong way, Brahmins are not respected and if they are they are not given the responsibility in world affairs they are supposed to be given, and honestly everything is pretty much chaos. So one can’t blame Mr Tolle for all this mess or for not understanding what a Kshatriya’s job is, but in truth the guy is right, that one should elevate their consciousness. This thing is above material and political dramas or concerns. And in this age if one does focus on elevating their consciousness, which is something available because the responsibility falls upon one’s own self, the planet will get better. It follows a logical route, but this truth may not be well perceived if one has not raised their consciousness. Very few people even understand what higher consciousness is but focusing on that as a goal to self improvement is a helpful endeavor. A teacher can spend all day trying to help one understand it, but this thing will never be perceived, understood or valued from an observation stand point. One has to experience within one’s own self.

  • Zoran

    My experience is that if we judge someone usually he created some painfull reaction in us. Its easy to hide behind religion, but its not so easy (well it is if you are 100% sincere) to awake and transcend illusion –mind-space-ego. Many times we are so sure of our purity and we try to show ourselves so very pure in public image. Yet when we are alone in the room we know exactly who we are and how much we have truly transcended…So maybe it would be good to focus on ourself and question our spiritual quest sincerity. No doubt if we are truly sincere progress will be fast. But if we only show our public image of spiritual person, but in truth we are not so sincere inside, well then we will seek faults here and there to forget on our own ( Mr. Tolle in this case) So maybe its good thing to take 100% responsibility for our own awakening and to question sincerely our sincerity. Any lying to ourself will have sooner or later drastic consequences (my own experience).
    Om Shanti

  • Chris

    Really well thought out piece. A couple of points relevant to my world…

    I’ve led a ‘low impact’ life for years. Don’t eat meat, car free, live off-grid, etc. This action comes from compassion and has been the case regardless of whether I’ve been living in my head or living in the Now. Therefore I don’t believe you need to be ‘present’ to be environmentally aware and sensitive to the welfare of other species. Education, open-mindedness – these are more important I think. ‘Presence’ may help, but it’s not a pre-requisite.

    You mentioned Tolle’s writings are ‘individualistic’. I agree, but I think this is his strength. He has a very good understanding of the individual on a psychological and (perhaps) spiritual level. I think his work is a superb personal transformative tool, not on a political level, but in terms of generating well-being. This may lead to political mind-shifts, I don’t know.

    On a wider scale, I also believe that a consciousness transformation is critical for survival of our species in the light of Climate Change. However, this shift in consciousness can be achieved by education, experience of extreme weather events or, in the final analysis, earth reaching a tipping point. In short ‘Presence’ is not the only tool for transformation.

  • Amy

    No one know what the future holds. And the past? It’s all open to interpretation to begin with! Determining what is good and what is bad? What makes sense and what doesn’t? Intellectualizing and making determinations are all a form of resistance to what is anyway. Tolle is simply showing us – us…. And recommending we just BE. Letting go of the outcome and the mental fantoms. He is simply offering us and showing us a way to transcend. Humans generally want to complicate and control. Tolle asks that we only become “the witnessing presence” and practice presence. Practice. Simply.

  • Eric

    Sounds like these authors have some anger issues, especially against Mr. Tolle. I especially like the comments on the disdain for his wealth. Let’s face it y’all, the truth hurts. And you are truly hurting. You have not yet experienced your awakening. What you fail to realize is that when everyone is at peace, you don’t need anything else. Let go of your anger.

  • Bergin Tam

    Agreed with Eric. Where is the disdain for Tolle coming from? It sounds like you have your own agenda of how things should be. Isn’t it the same energy of us versus them? It’s the same egoic energy we see through thousands of years of human history and is nothing special or new. Everyone has their roles that they work from best. Not everyone needs to be social justice advocates like you. What’s great about Tolle is that he addresses the very roots of the injustice. It’s not so much in the world as it exists in our hearts and minds. These pointers can be used by rich, poor, persons of any color because they are universal principles without exception. Its great to advocate social justice. Do it out of love not this disdain with the attitude of everyone must change the world. It didn’t eliminate racism and thousands of other isms because changing the external circumstances is to cut off the top of the weed and not the root. Change yourself then you will look at the world differently. Sounds like you’re doing the Mother Teresa thing and look at where her spiritual life ended up. Your stance has been tried over and over again. But somehow we insist its gonna work for us if we do it just right. It’s never about the form. Right buddhism is the worst. The buddha would roll over in his grave and puke in his mouth if he encountered this non-sense.

  • Nathan

    It’s interesting to see how this article I wrote over two years ago continues to get comments. Clearly I hit a nerve.

    If I wrote this today I would be absolutely clear that I don’t expect everyone to be out in the streets. I fully agree with the idea of a diversity of roles. That some of us will be social activists, some spiritual teachers, etc. In addition, I even agree that teachers like Tolle addresses the “root causes” of injustice. That it begins as an inside job so to speak.

    And yet, without making more explicit connections between the roots and their manifestations in the relative world, privileged folks don’t tend to make the changes needed to end oppression. Tolle is considered a teacher to many movers and shakers in the West. Politicians and business leaders who are making decisions that impact us all on a daily basis. He’s not responsible for their decisions, but I do think that if he was more explicitly drawing connections between things like gross wealth inequality and the mind of greed, perhaps some of these folks might choose to act differently than they currently do.

  • ae

    It seems to me that the problems of the world emerge by their own volition – who among us decided or acted in such a way to create wealth inequality, war, or cruelty? You can point at a dead person or someone who is in power and say it was them. But they are products of their time, their life experience, their parents. So you can point at the parents or the teachers at and say it’s their fault. They raise the movers and shakers.This is pointless though because you cannot change what they have done or what they are doing. If somehow you could control them and change what they are doing then you are merely amplifying your own effect in the world which is unlikely to be in every other being’s best interest (because nothing is in every being’s best interest). The pragmatic “solution” then is doing something right now that seems to be in the best interest of as many beings as possible. Figuring out what that is can be daunting. For you, in those moments while you wrote this article, it was criticizing Eckhart Tolle’s teachings. I’m not sure doing so accomplished much for the world, but I couldn’t know something like that. Namaste.

  • no website

    Interesting. So often heard today is the pop-psycher who claims you have “anger issues” if you disagree with someone. Behind this is the substitution of feelings for thinking — as in’ “Well, y’know it’s like that I don’t feel that the universe is really, I mean, really “Out there,” y’know. Maybe it’s just sort of (one of my new favorites) in our heads, like.”

  • Michael

    Wow, you really don’t get it

  • Andras Nagy

    Tolle’s approach of leaving politics and activism alone is not unique and it is shared by me and countless other mystics and tantra practitioners. He is a hermit and without a family or child, so naturally his approach works for him. He is not a Buddhist so criticizing him from the Buddhist perspective is silly.
    Every seemingly “positive” action has a “negative side” and hurts someone. Never think that by doing “good” you can somehow alter the flow of history unfolding. Does this mean that you should do nothing? When seeing an individual in need you should help, but altruistic activism is self-delusion. Spirituality and politics do not mix.

  • Voltara

    Several people I know have discovered spirituality and found greater peace and happiness reading Tolle’s books. For me that is proof his teaching has value.

  • Arjun L. Sen

    I couldn’t disagree more with all these anti Tolle positions. Most comnents show that the revolutionary jature of a Tollean transformation has never been tried. Even Buddhists seem to fail to grasp the point. Internal transformation leads to both true understanding and compassion. If individual consciousnrss was transformed on a massive scale it wpuld lead collectovely to revolutionary change, to wise and compassionate decisions, to more cooperation anf vollsboration and less conflicts. Freeing ones self from egoic positions would result in huge numbers of people climbing out of nationalism, casteism, religious and sectarian conflict and the worship of money. All we have today is more of the same: good works without a real shift in consciousness. It isnt that we deny the value of the good work people do who carry baggage but how a massive shift in infividual consciousness on a large scale would be fun dentally transformational to social chsnge. The only way this can hsppen is through mefitation and a shift in awareness. This can only happen in a Now, just as an intuitive scientific insight happens in a Now.

    I remember as a young msn in 1970s India, wandering daily through an environment of mass poverty amd hopelessness, of religious and caste conflict, and thinking that imdeed without an internal transformation at the heart of each imdividual amounting to a collective shift in consciousness, the problems would never be solved.

    Tolle might be populist but that doesn’t make him wrong. Its clear that his position is not understood because he makes individual transformation primary before anything collective csn get truly better. I think he’s right.

  • Marina Tonkonogy

    I disagree.

    The author didn’t understand the essence of Tolle’s insight. He doesn’t downplay or dismiss activism and collective action. All he is saying is that the impulse to advocate for any cause for each individual should come from the right place, from place of inner peace, presence and self-awareness.

    I’ve seen many projects started by activists who either were unsuccessful or went in the wrong direction because they were originated in the low level of consciousness of each individual who participated.

    That said, I also don’t agree with Tolle on everything. As a mental health professional, I know for a fact that for many people who have been highly traumatized by many horrific events, his practical suggestions will not work. Their brains are physically incapable of doing all those “being in the now” exercises he suggests. Many of them may start dissociating and self-harming if they attempt to do that and they have no control over it. He doesn’t understand that in many such cases of big trauma, physiological reactions take over the free will and the ability to choose consciously. Those people need to choose other therapeutic activities under the professional guidance that would bring them closer to the place where they’d be able to begin to do the exercises he suggests and to change their outlook.

    I also find it a bit off putting when he makes light of human suffering. It’s helpful to do so when you have from neurotic environments and your suffering level is within the majority average. For someone, who, for instance, was repeatedly sexually assaulted throughout their childhood, has attempted suicide more than once and has been through other severe forms of abuse, Tolle’s jokes about their mental states are hurtful. Their life is often a nightmare because of the excruciating pain they experience daily and to make a light of it is highly insensitive. The reason he does that, I believe, is because he himself has not experienced that degree of trauma. His background, even though problematic, was not outside of the mainstream, and, despite his level of insight, he can’t see his own limitations in understanding the human mind.

    All in all, I appreciate his teachings, have found them helpful on many levels, but I certainly don’t put him (or anyone) on a pedestal, don’t consider him a “guru” and don’t think he is the ultimate answer to all the problems of humanity. I don’t believe there is such thing as ultimate answer.

  • Felipe B.

    I really agree with Arjun L. Sen the real change can only star with the inner change. Take the example of an Gandhi, Mandela, Buddha and others they really worked a change in the world but first they change themselves! Besides the change in the world they achieved although important it can’t hold if the people who is part in the change is not transformed internally. Take the example of Gandhi. He was killed by some of people he tried to save. In this case mostly the problem resides in the nonexistent change in the people only some of the conditions (which of course is also important) of their lives. The change and the revolution to endure must be directed to our consciousness as first stage

  • Ilija Prentovski

    Check out the work of Charles Eisenstein. He reconciles the opposing issues stated in this article and brings Love in the right context binding them all together.

  • Mark

    I found this website after googling “Is Tolle’s writing Buddhist?”

    I don’t think Tolle says anything that has not been said before. He is influenced by people and ways of thought that I have deep respect for. I don’t see anything wrong with him focusing on the individual reader. I believe that I exist both as an individual and all life simultaneously. My belief is compatible with Tolle’s words. While it is true that some readers may end up cocooned by his writing, that was never Tolle’s intention.

    I have been an activist in the past and like many activists, I got caught up in the trap of seeing myself as superior. When you are involved in collective action working towards mutually agreed timelines, it is too easy to lose your ability to stay in the present moment and devalue the opinions of others. It is very important to view the people who disagree with you as equals and feel genuine compassion and respect for them. I personally find Tolle’s words very relevant for activism and I find that they open the way for a type of activism that is far less confrontational and consequently more effective.

  • Kim

    I agree completely. The problem can’t be addressed through just inner work or just outer work. It must address both problems at once.

  • Julie E Murken

    It is my understanding that Ullrich, er, uh, Eckart Tolle is a hermit who set himself free from the trials and tribulations of mainstream life. Is that correct? But I wonder . . . who is it who continued to work in a mainstream life to make the money to pay for his upkeep and to buy his books?

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