Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth have not only sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages but they’ve earned him the title “the most popular spiritual author in the [United States]” by The New York Times. He’s gained worldwide popularity amongst the masses and widespread admiration from movie stars, celebrities and famous musicians. Annie Lennox of the Eurhythmics said that he “has some kind of special quality that I’ve never seen before.” One student of his work asked in an online forum, “has he appeared in your dreams as well?” Oprah included The Power of Now in her 2000 book club, helping to launch it to the number one spot on the NYT book list a few years later. They also teamed up in 2008 to produce a 10-week webinar on the teachings of A New Earth. Millions of people from around the world tuned in for this first of its kind techno-spiritual phenomenon. Never before was so much wisdom instantly accessible and easily understood.”
Given the central role Tolle plays in modern spiritual thinking his ideas have world-wide implications. He is one of many modern day teachers who emphasizes internal transformation as the central most important part of global transformation. As a result he makes quite exaggerated statements about the relationship between a privatized psychological shift and the larger transformation of the planet. His solutions are simplistic and border on irresponsible, especially when so much is at stake. Understanding the details of his spiritual framework and how his personal experience of transformation influenced it sheds light into Tolle’s thinking.
“True change happens within, not without” – Eckhart Tolle
Born in 1948 in Lunen, Germany, Tolle received no formal education between the age thirteen and twenty-two. He says that he simply stopped attending school due to a hostile environment, a decision his father wholeheartedly supported. On his own time he took language classes, read literature and studied astronomy. Unhappy as a child, Tolle thought about suicide from an early age, something that would periodically haunt him until his later awakening. “How can I eliminate myself from this world,” he wondered. Entering the University of London at age 22, Tolle studied psychology and philosophy and graduated with the highest mark possible. He subsequently received a scholarship to continue his work at Cambridge University. It was here, in 1977, at the age of 29, that Eckhart’s life took an unexpected turn.
After years of an “unbearable” and “loathsome” existence Tolle awoke terrified in the middle of the night to be faced with his worst demons. “I cannot live with myself any longer” he repeated to himself over and over again. Everything was “so alien, so hostile and so utterly meaningless” that he longed for annihilation and non-existence. Living had become almost entirely superficial. The “motivating power” behind his life, particularly his academic career, was “fear and unhappiness.” The facade he had built for himself was tumbling down.
Then, as if a deeper and more profound consciousness took over, Tolle began asking himself “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” Maybe, one of them wasn’t true he wondered. His body began shaking as a powerful fear overcame him. The words “resist nothing” internally echoed in his chest. For the first time he felt the void inside himself as opposed to outside. Abruptly the fear disappeared and he let himself “fall into the void.”
The next morning Tolle awoke to a different world. It was beautiful and alive. He saw love expressed in the dawn sunlight peeking through the curtains. As he became emotional he walked around the city as if he was born again.
After this profound inner shift Tolle claims to have lived in a “state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss” for around five months. He studied spiritual texts, worked with teachers and eventually spent two years in a state of profound joy while sitting on park benches. He was realizing that his shift in thinking had peeled back the layers to reveal the “ever-present ‘I am’: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.” Tolle had discovered something of immense value and was now ready to share it with the world.
Tolle’s Vision of Social Change
Given the profound nature of Tolle’s personal awakening and the incredible sense of peace and joy that he felt one can see why he makes a direct link between his own private experience and social transformation. Indeed, if there is a defining theme in his work it is just that: internal spiritual transformation leads to a better, more peaceful and just world. More so, Tolle identifies a shift in the inner world as the only significant factor in social change.
The primary factor in creation is consciousness. No matter how active we are, how much effort we make, our state of consciousness creates our world, and if there is no change on the inner level, no amount of action will make any difference. We would only re-create modified versions of the same world again and again, a world that is an external reflection of the ego.
This line of thinking is problematic. For example if someone were organizing to change the racist institutional structures in society but yet hadn’t changed on the “inner level” Tolle is stating that their work would be futile. Of course people with lots of inner baggage contribute immensely to the transformation of the world and similarly, those who have done years of therapy, are deeply in love with healthy families are responsible for supporting some of the most harmful policies. He proposes that once people awaken to the deepest experience of Being the world will somehow drastically change.
We are not separate from our world, so when the majority of humans become free of egoic delusion, this inner change will affect all of creation. You will literally inhabit a new world. It is a shift in planetary consciousness.
We first need to ask, when one becomes free of egoic delusion what will their positions be on abortion, health care or foreign policy? Won’t this “new world” merely reflect the views of those who describe it, like Tolle? Egoic delusion is vague and it’s unclear what this means in the context of social transformation. In an interview Tolle admits to have $4 million dollars just sitting in the bank. What is the best “ego-free” use of that money? Becoming free of egoic delusion does nothing to provide answers to the most complex moral questions we face. Thus, it is inaccurate to suggest that once we are all free of ego we will inhabit a new world. In order to believe Tolle, you have to think that anyone who “awakens” will necessarily share the exact same social, political and cultural ideology. Secondly, forget about ethical systems, community, protesting or frameworks for engaging with others, everything one needs to play his or her part in the creation of a new world can be found within. He states, “The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.” Global transformation has never been easier.
Tolle’s bold claim rests on the belief in a “vast realm of intelligence beyond thought,” that once accessed will guide and direct the planetary transformation through humans. In short, God is evolving through us. It is in this space if Being that such universal experiences as “beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace” originate. This energy is the “intelligence, the organizing principle behind the arising form.” Tolle uses the terms Source, the Unmanifested, consciousness, God and Being interchangeably to describe this realm or force. This intelligence has designed the world through its continual unfolding. The Unmanifested flows “through human form…becomes conscious and thus fulfills its destiny. The human form was created for this higher purpose, and millions of other forms prepared the ground for it.” God created humans to fulfill God’s divine destiny.
What keeps us separated from this Source according to Tolle? It’s simple: identification with the mind. By this he means incessant mental chatter, confusing our true identity with form or labels and the obsession with the false egoic self. This is nothing other than evil. He states, “If evil has any reality – it is has a relative not an absolute, reality – this is also its definition: complete identification with form – physical forms, thought forms, emotional forms.” This false identification leads to ignorance and beliefs of separation and hence the complex global challenges that we currently face.
In the Power of Now, Tolle suggests there are various “portals into the Unmanifested” which lead beyond the limited identification with ego. They include: connecting to the body, dreamless sleep, surrender, the now, space and silence. Opening ourselves to pure consciousness via these methods, we can play our part in the unfolding of the divine will.
Without the impairment of egoic dysfunction, our intelligence comes into full alignment with the outgoing cycle of universal intelligence and its impulse to create. We become conscious participants in the creation of form. It is not we who create, but universal intelligence that creates through us.
Tolle claims that when he is speaking it isn’t him but rather the pure power of presence that is speaking through him. It’s interesting as this is an almost universally shared claim made by many other gurus, preachers and religious leaders. Many mainline Christian ministers claim that God is speaking through them. And of course Neale Donald Walsch claims in Conversations with God that God actually dictated several books worth of material to him. Yet God seems to be saying very different things to Tolle, Walsch and Pat Robertson. How can this be?
As we have seen, Tolle believes that God is evolving through us to awaken his or her divine planetary will on earth. How does he substantiate this theory? He doesn’t. The only evidence he can point to for his theology is that more and more people are abandoning “mind-dominated religions.” This is evidence, according to Tolle, that a new consciousness is arising through us. It’s not convincing. Besides, around the globe “mind-dominated” religion is spreading quickly. He gives more insight into his cosmology.
But what we are doing here is part of a profound transformation that is taking place in the collective consciousness of the planet and beyond: the awakening of consciousness from the dream of matter, form, and separation. The ending of time…On our planet, the human ego represents the final stage of universal sleep, the identification of consciousness with form. It was a necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness.
This is almost incomprehensible. How does he know what the evolutionary stages of consciousness are? What is the relationship between evolved consciousness and capitalism? When we no longer identify with form will all injustices be eradicated? If not, and if it is possible for us as a species to be “awake” while simultaneously living in an and being complicit with an oppressive industrial society then we should seriously question the social and political dimensions of spiritual transformation.
Why can’t this divine evolutionary impulse awaken us to the reality of things that actually matter like deforestation, pollution, racism, homophobia or imperialism? Why couldn’t experiencing Being and connecting to our divine source actually provide us with tangible knowledge and concern about the ravages of industrial capitalism instead of disembodied, abstract and politically neutral states of presence? Tolle and others like Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen believe that God evolves through everyone – Tea Partiers and KKK members, white liberals, black feminists, Chinese Taoists and queer activists to merely discover their deepest and truest self. Unfortunately this divine act does extremely little to actually move us towards global and planetary change. If it helps everyone equally then it empowers everyone at the social, political and ideological perspective they are based in and is essentially neutral. Aligning ourselves with an ever-present divine evolving impulse is vague, empty and will still reflect one’s social and cultural values and prejudices. It’s like going to therapy to discover deeper states of psychological truth. Of course anyone can benefit from therapy, but this won’t make them challenge the worst injustices around them. There are of course millions of Americans oblivious to the realities of racism and injustice who have done profound inner transformational work and who have connected with the “light of consciousness.”
Elsewhere, Tolle’s work is littered with unsubstantiated vague claims like, “All egoic structures are destined to collapse,” and “We are breaking mind patterns that have dominated human life for eons.” Who is the “we” and what are “mind patterns?” Where do they exist? What is an egoic structure?
Tolle’s magical thinking reveals itself more clearly when he gives examples of exactly how internal transformation can affect social transformation. He states, “The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution: millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space…As within, so without: If humans clear inner pollution, then they will also cease to create outer pollution.” While this may intuitively feel right, it is of course nonsense. Some of the most passionate advocates of environmentalism have lots of “inner psychic pollution.” Likewise, many people who are irresponsible with the environment are very evolved, loving and caring people who have done extensive personal transformation work. Tolle’s correlation with inner and outer pollution is profoundly abstract and vague. It’s entirely meaningless, overly simplistic and irresponsible. It’s literally no different than a right-wing conservative saying the reason why there are so many abortions in the United States is because of “inner psychic pollution.” What does this really mean?
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.
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. If we were to take Tolle seriously we should instruct environmental educators to stop teaching about pollution and start teaching about how to connect to Being. However, stilling the mind will make someone pollute less just as it would make someone a better chef. Otherwise, we’d expect anyone who engaged in mind-body practices to eventually share the exact same social and political ideology. Again, the divine will of the universe could have resolved this if it only could awaken people to the realities of social injustice – not just instill within them an abstract and politically neutral state of presence.
For Tolle the “mind” is a huge problem. He believes the reason that we have poor art, literature and music is because the world is mind dominated. It is in turning off the mind and stopping thoughts that we find salvation. This is however quite problematic. While certainly people can benefit from stilling the mind, to say that a busy mind is the cause of industrial capitalism or pollution is nonsense. There are lots of people with busy and cluttered minds who are on the forefront of social justice movements. Also, there are many people who have done lots of work to quiet their minds and yet still are supportive or in the least complicit with awful things. Inner calm is not synonymous with anti-capitalistic sentiments. Again, he is identifying a particular social/political agenda or outcome with presence. If only we turn off the mind then society will be better. Yet this is absolutely not the case. Members of the Tea Party can benefit from mindfulness just as left-wing anarchists can. Furthermore, creativity (one of the things Tolle values and is a result of stilling the mind) can be accessed by anyone for any purpose. Increasing the amount of creativity in the world won’t support the political ideas of Mr. Tolle. People can be creative in harmful ways.
Tolle believes that when the mind is still one can listen to and be guided by divine inner guidance. However, intuition is not detached from ones social and cultural conditioning. It is most certainly shaped by the values, morals, beliefs, customs and practices that have already influenced the intuitive feeling. The intuition of a KKK member in approaching issues of race is vastly different than the intuition of a Black Panther member. Any sort of universalizing divine quality that Tolle believes will speak to a particular social or political agenda is pure fiction.
What happens when you still a busy mind in Nazi, Germany? You have a still minded person living in and supporting an oppressive state. Same goes for Imperialistic countries like the United States.
At the end of A New Earth, Tolle describes his understanding of how acting in the world lines up with one’s inner purpose.
Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose – what you do – with your inner purpose – awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you and into this world. It flows into your thoughts and inspires them. It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it.
He names three modalities of awakened doing, which without whatever we do will “be dysfunctional and of the ego.” They are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. He believes these modalities represent a frequency of vibration and claims that we need to be in one of these states at all times. In fact, our suffering is caused by our lack of being in them.
Tolle again makes magical claims about the relationship between an individual being in a state of acceptance and social transformation. “On the surface, acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it is active and creative because it brings something entirely new into this world.” When you do something on the vibrational frequency of acceptance you are on the level of “consciousness.” His fetishization of the internal dimension is very clear.
If you can neither enjoy or bring acceptance to what you do – stop. Otherwise, you are not taking responsibility for the only thing you can really take responsibility for, which also happens to be the one thing that really matters: your state of consciousness. And if you are not taking responsibility for your state of consciousness, you are not taking responsibility for life.
He speaks in such abstract ways that it is hard to know exactly what he means by acceptance. However, it seems clear that cultivating a sense of joy and inner peace is more important than the action that one is doing. Thus, if the black voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t in a state of inner peace when she was risking her life in Mississippi then she should have abandoned her project. For Tolle, her inner process is vastly more important than the action she was doing. Again, he states that consciousness is the only thing that really matters.
Like many other popular spiritual teachers Tolle believes that thoughts vibrate at certain frequencies. Some people, like contemplatives have a special role in this domain.
Their function is to anchor the frequency of the new consciousness on this planet. I call them the frequency-holders. They are here to generate consciousness through the activities of daily life, through their interactions with others as well as through just being…Thoughts consist of the same energy vibrating at a higher frequency than matter, which is why they cannot be seen or touched. Thoughts have their own range of frequencies, with negative thoughts at the lower end of the scale and the positive thoughts at the higher.
Thoughts or beliefs don’t vibrate at a frequency. There is simply no evidence of that they do. What frequency does being pro-choice resonate on? What is the frequency of wanting electoral reform? Does anger in one context resonate on a different frequency than in a another context, like for example when it is righteous anger against injustice? Does love vibrate at the same frequency in Mahatma Gandhi and Glenn Beck? If Republicans fall in love and get rid of “inner psychic pollution” would this vibration actually address the global challenges we face? Right-wing conservatives can be deeply in love, cultivate strong relationships, do profound inner transformation, meditate and be joyful. Aren’t presence and love beyond political persuasions and available to anyone regardless of their ideology? Or are Tolle’s “frequency-holders” only people whom he agrees with socially and politically?
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?
Tolle’s second form of awakened doing is enjoyment. He states, “Through enjoyment, you link into that universal creative power itself.” When the creative power of the universe becomes conscious of itself, it manifests as joy.
You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present, any activity that is not just a means to an end. It isn’t the action you perform that you really enjoy, but the deep sense of aliveness that flows into it. That aliveness is one with who you are. This means that when you enjoy doing something, you are really experiencing the joy of Being in its dynamic aspect. That’s why anything you enjoy doing connects you with the power behind all creation.
This is so vague that of course any action could be done with “joy” and thus originate from the “power behind all creation.” Couldn’t both a pro-life activist and a pro-choice activist experience joy in their actions? How about a right wing conservative and a left-wing democrat? If “joy” can be experienced by anyone regardless of their political, moral or social positions and actions it becomes a meaningless way of measuring “awakened doing.” Why? Because everyone who experiences joy would then be acting with “awakened doing.” But of course this contradicts Tolle’s position that Being or spirit is evolving in a certain direction. If it manifests in every direction then it is completely meaningless. “Joy” is not a liberal or conservative experience nor is it associated with any particular directionality in the universe.
Tolle’s third element of awakened doing is enthusiasm. It means, “there is a deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward. When you add a goal to the enjoyment of what you do, the energy-field or vibrational frequency changes…it resonates with the creative power of the universe.” He assigns a religious meaning to the word enthusiasm and over generalizes it to the extreme.
Unlike egoic wanting, which creates opposition in direct proportion to the intensity of its wanting, enthusiasm never opposes. It is non-confrontational. It’s activity does not create winners and losers. It is based on inclusion, not exclusion, of others. It does not need to use and manipulate people, because it is the power of creation itself and so does not need to take energy from some secondary source. When enthusiasm encounters obstacles in the form of adverse situations or uncooperative people, it never attacks but walks around them or by yielding or embracing turns the opposing energy into a helpful one, the foe into a friend…Through enthusiasm you enter into full alignment with the outgoing creative principle of the universe.
Tolle personifies enthusiasm and injects it with a deity like force that will act on behalf of the powers of good. It reminds me of those believe that when Jesus is on their team they will be aligned with God’s will. How can enthusiasm “never attack?” What does this mean? Can’t a suicide bomber enthusiastically blow himself up? Can’t soldiers enthusiastically attack the enemy?
There is a danger to Tolle’s simplistic belief that acceptance, joy and enthusiasm lead to awakened doing. It can easily lead one to believe that whatever they are doing is aligned with the creative principle of the universe as long as they are enthusiastic about it. The only compass or gauge of whether or not something is moral or non harmful is the individuals internal mind. Rather than basing ethics on dialogue, relationships or structural inequalities Tolle’s system is entirely dependent upon the cultivation of acceptance, joy and enthusiasm. These are vague and meaningless terms when trying to determine whether is something is for example racist or sexist.
Resistance to the Now as a collective dysfunction is intrinsically connected to loss of awareness of Being and forms the basis of our dehumanized industrial civilization.- Eckhart Tolle
A friend recently told me that he believed spiritual awakening would make someone become more progressive politically. I asked him how far left would it make them go? Left-wing anarchist, liberal democrat, socialist? He didn’t know. But he believed it would make them more compassionate and likely to want to serve others. Yet, these are not domains of the “left.” I know many right-wing Christians who have dedicated their lives to serving others, but yet maintain homophobic, sexist and patriarchal attitudes. There were common citizens in Nazi Germany who volunteered and did service. There are many conservatives who are compassionate. My friend, like Tolle, confused spiritual awakening with a particular political agenda.
According to Tolle what is most urgently needed to address the thought addicted insane world is the cultivation of presence. Global transformation hinges upon awakening to our deepest, most essential being. How might one begin to discover this? As we’ve mentioned through stilling the mind or other embodiment practices. Also, “For some,” Tolle claims in A New Earth, a glimpse of awakening “will come while reading this book,” as it is “Designed to draw you into this new consciousness as you read.” He continues, “Again and again, I endeavor to take you with me into that timeless state of intense enlightenment.” If you were worried about the authenticity or truth of his teachings, he clears up the matter by stating his book “is not derived from external sources, but from the one true Source within, so it contains no theory or speculation.”
Like many others Tolle mistakenly conflates presence with justice. People can cultivate presence and and still the mind and yet live in a society that is racist, sexist and based on capitalist exploitation. Presence is not anti-thetical to a “dehumanized industrial civilization.” There can be lots of “nice” people who are calm and do things in a “sacred” manner and yet be completely oblivious to the ways in which the surrounding culture pollutes, oppresses and marginalizes people.
As was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism – the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, most white people in the history of U.S. have believed themselves to be loving, caring, compassionate people. Many have even engaged in spiritual practices for decades now, yet have been complicit in all sorts of racist, bigoted and Imperialistic actions in America. White people aren’t more aware of their own racism or racist past because they’ve cultivated presence or live in the Now.
Certainly Tolle has transformed the lives of many people. Millions have benefited from his teachings. The physical and mental benefits of mind-body spiritual practices are clear. Yet, this just makes the point I’m trying to illustrate much clearer. It doesn’t matter what political or social persuasion one is, anyone can benefit from individual transformative practices. To suggest that engaging in these practices is thus aligning with a certain political direction of the divine will as Tolle does is simply untrue. Again, anyone who stills the mind or cultivates presence would necessarily end up at the same social and political positions. We’d all end up like Tolle. That’s not my definition of a transformed planet.
Teachings like those of Tolle are overly simplistic and irresponsible. To say that the global problems of the world will be solved if we all still the mind, connect with Being and live in joy, enthusiasm and acceptance is incredibly naive. His ideas are based on magical thinking, not unlike The Secret and many other pop-spiritual philosophies. He claims that by just allowing the present moment to be it “will miraculously transform your whole life.” Even if one addresses their shadow through therapy or other transformative work, this still won’t lead to the global transformation that Tolle speaks of. These teachings make larger than life promises and conflate inner transformation with external transformation when in reality people with varying political positions can equally benefit from spiritual/psychological growth and still maintain their perspectives and actions regardless of how harmful they are.
Claims that the divine is working through us to fulfill the evolutionary mission of consciousness are so abstract they are meaningless. Most significantly the “will of the divine” always reflects the social, political and ideological positions of those making the claims. Saying this doesn’t mean I’m against spiritual practices or individual transformation just as me saying that poetry won’t save us doesn’t mean that I’m against poetry. Rather it is important to pull these two domains of internal and external transformation apart to clearly see what has erroneously been projected onto them.
We are already facing immense global challenges, which are seemingly only going to get worse. Getting in touch with God, love, Being or Source won’t save us now. Spiritual awakening won’t solve the problems we must confront. The issue is not lack of Being or unwillingness to be in the Now. Instead of fetishizing internal transformation as a global panacea or promoting the idea that God is evolving through us let’s build the networks of relationships and communities of resistance necessary to survive the coming planetary challenges.
Sigh. I wish we could please stop talking past each other. Eckhart Tolle has never claimed he has a “magical formula” for changing the world. He has merely pointed out that much of the stuff we don’t like about the world, the violence and the greed for example in all their myriad forms, tend to be the product of people immersed in their thinking. This is not particularly novel and the Buddha pointed it out a long time ago. Mr. Tolle merely has a knack for explaining it to “modern” people, who need this kind of advice a great deal. When you “think less” you are apt to be less likely to do harm to your fellow beings and the earth in general. We have all observed this. This has nothing to do with the fight against injustice or the need to build strong communities, all of which can be done better and more humanely by people who are not addicted to their own thoughts. Be Scofield has merely missed the point.
Thank you, Nils! I do so think that we need to pay very close attention to what Mr. Toll is actually saying and set aside whatever preconceptions we may have that will block our understanding of his message.
You state: *When you “think less” you are apt to be less likely to do harm to your fellow beings and the earth in general.*
When we think *more* we are less likely to do harm to our fellow beings because we learn, grow and understand more. Stilling the mind doesn’t make one less likely to participate in their cultures surrounding racist, homophobic, sexist or oppressive attitudes, practices or beliefs. Your belief that thinking less means less harm is actually harmful.
Again, the Buddhist fascists “thought less” than other societies and yet did far more harm than others. How do you explain that?
mark-up test [b]mark-up test[/b]
There are valid criticisms which can be made of Tolle, but this critique seems a little over-zealous or perhaps superficial at times. I think there is something to the criticism, but it is also possible that some things were missed. I know that I often assume others know what I already assume when making my own critiques, the internal “mea culpas” and caveats that are obvious to me and invisible to others. So perhaps Scofield would in fact agree with my own take on this topic, perhaps not. His critique is too long for a detailed analysis, so brief examples must suffice. I am not interpreting, speaking for, or defending Tolle, but rather examining the assertions present in Scofield’s response to Tolle to see what depth might be lurking in the ideas being discussed. I will assume the role of opposing advocate for the sake of spurring such reflection and examination. I make no claims of my own spiritual insight or political engagement in doing so. I write with the intention of respect and humility, whether or not this is actually accomplished.
“[I]f someone were organizing to change the racist institutional structures in society but yet hadn’t changed on the ‘inner level’ Tolle is stating that their work would be futile. Of course people with lots of inner baggage contribute immensely to the transformation of the world and similarly, those who have done years of therapy, are deeply in love with healthy families are responsible for supporting some of the most harmful policies. He proposes that once people awaken to the deepest experience of Being the world will somehow drastically change.”
Try it this way: If people only change outwardly because of social control mechanisms such as fear, pressure to conform, or threat of force, it only lasts when these forces are present. It’s like the child who is only sorry because she got caught. She doesn’t really appreciate the harm she has caused or truly care about the consequences of her actions. If she ever only learns to obey external rules for fear of shame and punishment, then yes, there will be some change to her behavior, and this could have benefits for those otherwise harmed by her behavior, but what will she do when she isn’t being forced to obey, when the rules change, or when she stops caring about the consequences of disobedience? To try to impose and maintain such an external system is extremely costly and inefficient. If, on the other hand, she actually develops empathy and this grows into compassion and loving-kindness, she will spontaneously want to be good to others.
Scofield alludes to the incompleteness of this general desire to be good to others, but does so by appearing to dismiss it altogether as a critical factor in solving and problems and healing our wounds. Even though you may wish to good for others, it is true that your degree of empathy and the form of your compassion will be based on your perception and understanding of the world. If you see others as dangerous or less than human, this can interfere with an empathetic or compassionate response. Awakening, then, must include a challenge to one’s own ideological assumptions. Education must be a part of the process.
But this isn’t accomplished through political debate in which people are arguing past one another, it is done through interpersonal contact. This has been demonstrated time and again, and is now being appreciated anew as the link between actually having friend and relatives who are openly homosexual is being correlated with changing attitudes towards gay marriage. Daryl Davis had previously demonstrated the same thing is his experiences with the KKK. Other examples abound. This is why the major religious figures in history couple transcending delusions and increased awareness of reality with fellowship and service to others. One without the other is incomplete and unsustainable. Without some degree of inner transformation and a capacity to see a common value in others on the parts of its, no institution, whether civic, religious, or political, will be able to effect lasting change that promotes the dignity and welfare of all members of society.
“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.”
Who says these are all examples of love or that just because someone uses “love” in a title it is accurate? Love refers to many different things in our language. In fact, much of what people sometimes call love in our society is what Buddhism refers to as attachment, an unhealthy avarice for or aversion to the idea of something (or someone) driven by an inner sense of dissatisfaction or incompleteness. In other words, what some people call love is just a romanticized form of hunger, selfish desire, insecurity, and greed. Philosophers have long categorized different types and levels of love. So before saying that love cannot be the basis for global transformation, it is important to clarify what kind of love is being considered. (As for the vibration idea, it has been around for millenia and was found in many areas, including the Near and Middle East. All knowledge and expressions of experience are imperfect analogies and metaphors, and their value isn’t whether limited to a different worldview’s standard of evidence.)
For example, if we remove attachment from consideration, what else might we mean by “love”? Some may refer to its emotional component, which is physically expressed through the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin. But that too is limited and incomplete, and can simply be another result of attachment. Emotion too can be jealous and fickle, hence people may “fall in” or “fall out” of love. Such “love” is conditional, as with attachment. Yet love is also used to describe something far more enduring. Love in the spiritual sense, then, implies an abiding space in our deepest consciousness in which we see, accept, and appreciate others as they are in spite of our attachments or current emotional state. This kind of bonding, referred to more poetically as holding or keeping others in our hearts, has physical, mental, emotional, and social healing properties.
It is true that some people only develop this capacity to a very limited extent and can only apply it to a very limited number of people. But that doesn’t make it impotent nor does it mean that people who have truly learned to love in the deep sense (dramatically increasing their capacity and range) can be compared to those who love by attachment and emotion in terms of their perspective on society or their actions for social justice. And however simplistic or clumsy one may find Tolle’s teachings, if part of such inner transformation and “awakening” to delusions of ideology, ego, and the like involves growing the heart’s ability to love in this way, then yes, it is going to be not only helpful but foundational to genuine and lasting social transformation. It is true that such love isn’t political, as it transcends such limitations. But good politics should always be grounded in such love.
“Like many others Tolle mistakenly conflates presence with justice. People can cultivate presence and and still the mind and yet live in a society that is racist, sexist and based on capitalist exploitation. Presence is not anti-thetical to a ‘dehumanized industrial civilization.’ There can be lots of “nice” people who are calm and do things in a ‘sacred’ manner and yet be completely oblivious to the ways in which the surrounding culture pollutes, oppresses and marginalizes people.”
Since Zen was the example used, it should be pointed out that Buddhist teaching explicitly warn against becoming one-sided in practice and development. Raising levels of concentration and discipline can support spiritual practice, the sutras and commentaries say, but they must be developed in conjunction with generosity, patience, ethics, wisdom, and a deep awareness of the suffering of others. As already mentioned any institution can become corrupted and hollow without such balance, and state-sponsored Zen during the Second World War is no exception. How else could a religion like Christianity, which is based on the teachings of a Rabbi who emphasized patience, forgiveness, and non-violence, kill so many people in their founder’s name?
“Presence” in contemplative religion (including the all-too rare strains found in Abrahamic traditions) is more than just developed concentration of everyday awareness and egoic consciousness. It is rooted in the conviction and subsequent realization that our deepest, truest reality is experienced in a way that whole, secure, non-judging (in the sense of non-despising and non-disparaging of others/relying on superficial judgments), accepting and inclusive (which is incompatible with fear and hated, it doesn’t mean “accepting” actions based on such negativity), and invigorating. Whether this expanded view of reality is described as a vibration or as the ground of being or as the divine is a different issue. The kind of presence emerging from such realization has nothing to do with merely having a “calm”, “nice”, “pleasant”, or “polite” exterior.
[O]f course any action could be done with “joy” and thus originate from the ‘power behind all creation.’ Couldn’t both a pro-life activist and a pro-choice activist experience joy in their actions? How about a right wing conservative and a left-wing democrat? If ‘joy’ can be experienced by anyone regardless of their political, moral or social positions and actions it becomes a meaningless way of measuring ‘awakened doing.’ Why? Because everyone who experiences joy would then be acting with ‘awakened doing.’ But of course this contradicts Tolle’s position that Being or spirit is evolving in a certain direction. If it manifests in every direction then it is completely meaningless. ‘Joy’ is not a liberal or conservative experience nor is it associated with any particular directionality in the universe.
See the above responses to the comments on love, presence, etc. The joy alluded to by the contemplatives (and again, one is free to ask whether Tolle should be numbered among them, whether he is just giving a “pop” synthesis of their collective teachings, etc.) is not the conditional or emotion-only kind of experience of satisfaction with one’s actions. It is joy from the same space as the kind of love and presence described above linked to inner transformation (or “awakening”). It is another indication of an otherwise ineffable experience of a greater reality. Because this experience is inclusive and drives out fear, it also drives out the desire and need for social interactions and politics based on fear, hatred, division, and the like. The “direction” of such an inner transformation, if we assume that this is what it is like, would be antithetical to political movements which are based on attachment and fear of change and on trying to “protect what is mine/ours from you/them”.
It is true that this awakening would almost certainly not come with a pre-determined list of political positions. But on the whole, looking at the current state of politics in the US it would be an improvement since it seems unlikely that such an awakening would lead to mindlessly follow half-truths and fear-mongering. The outcome wouldn’t necessarily fit within conventional political lines, and each person might have a slightly different take. But wouldn’t having such truly energized, inclusive, compassionate people with deep love, presence, and joy be a better starting place for true dialogue about our problems and their solutions? It seems to me that this is where we need to strive to be to have ever more meaningful discussion and debate in the political realm.
For example, someone thus awakened might come to the conclusion that in an ideal world they are pro-life from conception to natural death and opposed to abortion. In doing so she might criticize the tendency on the left to downplay the fact that abortion does involve ending human life (if not an actual human person) by reducing to a medical procedure, instead retaining the awareness of the full meaning of such a choice (even while supporting honoring that choice in the current state of the world) and emphasizing the need for spiritual healing for those who choose that option. On the other hand, such a person might heavily criticize those who seem to abandon all care for a person once born, and recognize the need to support and celebrate life in all of its stages, especially supporting women who become pregnant. Such a person may not fit neatly within some pro-choice or pro-life circles, but she would be able to work much more effectively at real solutions for reducing unplanned pregnancies, having healthy pregnancies, and so on than many of the ideologically hard core partisans in the current political climate.
“Teachings like those of Tolle are overly simplistic and irresponsible. To say that the global problems of the world will be solved if we all still the mind, connect with Being and live in joy, enthusiasm and acceptance is incredibly naive. His ideas are based on magical thinking…”
That depends. Tolle may be presenting the ideas in too simplistic of a fashion, but if is he getting at what I have been discussing it isn’t magical thinking nor is it naive, unless one rejects any such transformation. I don’t claim he is, in fact, really getting at the kind of transformation I have been describing nor do I make a case for whether he is helping or hurting things by his method of presentation, but it would be useful to tease Tolle and his approach apart from from general discussions on contemplative spirituality and its worth.
Many have even engaged in spiritual practices for decades now, yet have been complicit in all sorts of racist, bigoted and Imperialistic actions in America.
Not everyone who engages in spiritual practices do so in a transformative way. Some do them just to do them or because the are like image enhancers or accessories. Others just want stress release but don’t want significant revelation or changes. And even for those who have found a path and a guide that really helps them, the time needed for it to make a profound impact is unpredictable. It is just as true that many people claim to or try to diet and exercise and yet remain out of shape or overweight. That doesn’t obviate the reality of those who have learned about themselves and found a way to live that has dramatically improved their physical well-being and positively affected the lives of those around them. Why do we assume it is so different for spiritual wellness?
There are of course millions of Americans oblivious to the realities of racism and injustice who have done profound inner transformational work and who have connected with the “light of consciousness.”
There are? There are millions of Americans who have actually had profound inner transformational experiences leading to the kind of awakening described by the sages of contemplative traditions? Upon what is that claim founded? Again, education is always paramount to change and must go hand in hand with inner transformation, but that doesn’t mean that highly transformed spiritual people would be unmoved by learning of the plight of those affected by racism. In fact, they seem to traditionally be the ones to challenge religious and political complacency towards the abused and disenfranchised.
Claims that the divine is working through us to fulfill the evolutionary mission of consciousness are so abstract they are meaningless. Most significantly the “will of the divine” always reflects the social, political and ideological positions of those making the claims. Saying this doesn’t mean I’m against spiritual practices or individual transformation just as me saying that poetry won’t save us doesn’t mean that I’m against poetry.
There is a problemati conflation here. Again, politician can claim to speak “for the people” and any religious leader and claim to “speak for God”. The “will of the divine” sometimes actually speaks to a turn-around in the person’s assumptions and views. There is a reason that people like Elijah, the Buddha, and Jesus focused on spiritual transformation while critiquing the anti-spiritual attitudes (especially among the religious) behind the ills of their day rather than laying out a highly detailed political platform. They taught how to know a person beyond the surface level and whether they spoke with spiritual truth by the fruits of their word and deed, not by their ethnicity, nationality, sect, or partisan affiliation.
Getting in touch with God, love, Being or Source won’t save us now. Spiritual awakening won’t solve the problems we must confront. The issue is not lack of Being or unwillingness to be in the Now. Instead of fetishizing internal transformation as a global panacea or promoting the idea that God is evolving through us let’s build the networks of relationships and communities of resistance necessary to survive the coming planetary challenges.
Be is certainly welcome to his conclusion but it does seem odd given the basic ethos of Tikkun/NSP. Getting in touch with “God” in the sense I’ve alluded to here does indeed seem to be central to facing the global challenges we are confronting. Such an inner transformation when fully realized is never a private enlightenment but expands to include everyone everywhere. It isn’t necessary for everyone to fully awaken to take action or to make a difference–just look at what happens when a single awakened being comes onto the scene and then imagine what a few mostly awakened or a few million well-on-their-way-to-being awakened people could do. The more we are thus awakened the wiser, more committed, and more consistent our actions for others can be.
I can’t name the source, but I will paraphrase something I read a while back and work it into this theme for further consideration. Progressives would do well to remember the roots of their movements, which have always drawn inspiration from people who are either awakened, awakening, or who honored and felt a resonance with the lives and teachings of those who had awakened. It isn’t an either/or proposition when it comes to spiritual transformation and social justice, it’s both/and.
I hope this gives people something helpful to ponder in conjunction with Be Scofield’s piece. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for your thoughtful response to Be Scofield’s essay. To me, he seems to be doing what he decries in others which is making vague unsupported declarations as if they were “objective” facts. He is drawing conclusions based on his perceptions of his experience of reality. A very human thing to do. His comparing internal transformation to “working through mommy and daddy issues”, for me, demonstrates his lack of understanding of the term. Merely being confrontational by stating, “What about..(this or that)?” implies that he thinks he’s “right” and everyone who doesn’t see it his way is “wrong” appears to exemplify the fallacy of binary logic. Again very human and a difficult habit to break. I think I do understand his concern, however. What kind of macro effect can personal transformation have on the relentless, soul-crushing corporate take-over of every facet of our society and the deeply entrenched prejudices and fear of “other”? It remains to be seen. How does he know that “it’s possible to have the whole world resolve their mommy and daddy issues and other wounds and yet still be complicit with and supportive of some of the worst injustices in their cultures and the globe”? Did that happen and I missed it? Like most humans, I need hope to survive and thrive. The idea that true global transformation will occur when enough humans “wake up” supplies that hope at times. Whether that’s an internal or external process matters very little to me. Personally, I think it’s both. My own experience validates this. I need the mirroring of others to create an authentic “gestalt” of my existence. I would also point out that the most successful social justice movements of the 20th century were grounded in the ideals of unconditional love as expressed by Jesus and others throughout history.
Because there are millions of people who have done profound internal transformation work like resolving mommy and daddy issues on themselves but yet remain complicit either consciously or unconsciously with the worst injustices. The evidence is already here. People evolve psychologically and yet they have no new awareness of the prison industrial complex, white privilege or patriarchy. It’s like saying that the world won’t resolve itself of injustice when everyone becomes a great chef. Do we really need to do that experiment to validate the claim? Look at all of the white people doing yoga, meditating and spending months at retreat centers like Esalen and Omega. Have they increased their knowledge of white privilege, racism, structural inequality? No.
Yes, many social justice movements of the 20th century were rooted in love, but also many were secular. By 1963 the majority of people in the civil rights movement were strategically nonviolent. They weren’t there in a religious, spiritual or love based form. Plus, Glenn Beck’s movement is also based on love.
Hello Be and thank you for replying. I will attempt to clarify the part of my comment to which you have responded. I cannot tell if you are replying directly to me or indirectly through Randall’s comment, so I will assume it is both (responding to me via Randall’s elaboration) and try to respond accordingly. For others readings this comment, it would help to read both Be’s post and my original comment, to which I refer frequently here. Again, my goal is not to take a position and try to argue or defend for the sake of debate, but to open us to reflection and fruitful dialogue.
Because there are millions of people who have done profound internal transformation work like resolving mommy and daddy issues on themselves but yet remain complicit either consciously or unconsciously with the worst injustices. The evidence is already here. People evolve psychologically and yet they have no new awareness of the prison industrial complex, white privilege or patriarchy.
As far as I can tell from your initial post and your replies to it, you are equating spiritual transformation with personal psychology. I am not. The point is not to convince you that the two are not in reality synonymous, but to show that many of your assumptions appear to be based on the assumption of such a conflation. For those who do see a distinction between spiritual transformation and personal psychology, your original arguments and the rebuttals in the comments miss the mark. If you are willing to try to see things from such a point of view, even for the sake of argument, this should become clear.
My original comment distinguished between (superficially) conditional and emotion-based perception and awareness, which is akin to what is referred to in conventional psychology, and spiritually-derived perception and awareness. In fact, my reply was a generic, simplified outline of such spiritual awareness based on the teachings of various sacred traditions. If you read it in that light (even though you may whole-heartedly reject such a perspective), as opposed to a reading which assumes I am discussing conventional personal psychology dressed up in spiritual terms, hopefully you will see how your characterizations of the ineffectiveness of spiritual transformation and its cognates of deep love, presence, and joy come from such a conflation.
It seems (based on what you’ve written regarding this blog post) as though this conflation is based on a rejection of the reality of spiritual awareness and perception as a another level of consciousness and a reduction of such awareness to conventional psychological models of experience. If so (or if other see it that way), it follows that if one did not reject the possibility or reality of such transformation, your criticisms would appear to be of something other than such transformation and therefore misplaced. In other words, it may be that people are talking past each other on this topic by assuming they are referring to the same thing when they refer to “spiritual transformation/awakening” when in fact they are not.
It’s like saying that the world won’t resolve itself of injustice when everyone becomes a great chef. Do we really need to do that experiment to validate the claim?
It isn’t like saying that at all. Nor is it consistent with my original reply, which emphasizes that spiritual awakening offers a greater degree of compassion, energy, and commitment to resolve issues such as injustice.
Look at all of the white people doing yoga, meditating and spending months at retreat centers like Esalen and Omega. Have they increased their knowledge of white privilege, racism, structural inequality? No.
This was explicitly covered in my original comment as well. Many people have gym memberships or even go to the gym sometimes and remain out of shape or overweight. Others try this or that diet and and exercise program lacking conviction and consistency, and do not improve their physical health. Others try this or that diet and exercise assuming that all body types and physiological profiles are the same, ignoring the connections to emotional and psychological states, and thus choose a program that is less effective for them, or assume that even an effective program should show the same results in the same time-frame that others experience, thus becoming discouraged. As I asked before, why do we assume it will be substantially different for spiritual well-being? Why should we assume that the motives of people on yoga mats or in retreat centers, their dispositions and their attitudes, are collectively sincere or even aimed at deep spiritual transformation? And if even if they do have such sincere and committed motives, why should we assume that any particular person has experienced a significant level of transformation, let alone a profound level of transformation?
Returning to the idea of a distinction between the conventional western “mind” and the deeper spiritual self(-awareness), from my readings and the teachings I have encountered there is an overlap between the two, and in fact some might say that they are different ends of a single spectrum. However, if one takes that approach, it suggest standard psychology as it was practiced in the middle and latter parts of the twentieth century (as opposed to what William James had proposed earlier in that century) focused primarily or exclusively on one end. This is the “end” that deals with conventional notions of perception and descriptions of phenomena. This is the “end” that requires conventional education about the facts of history, the formation and perpetual of cultural values and social landscapes, the different aspects of human nature, and how these combine to create the wonderful and tragic aspects of our societies. It is this “end” that needs to be taught about the realities faced by the poor and the powerless through formal and informal avenues. The need for such education was mentioned as well in my original post.
But the “other end”, can its depths be plumbed by conventional psychological models? Can the pain and damage which dwells there be discovered and healed by conventional therapies? Or in such cases do such therapies borrow from and explore the same territory as covered by spiritual practices and sacred traditions? The argument for those who accept such depth to our being is that merely working through “mommy/daddy issues”, while not inconsequential or without real benefit, isn’t getting at the whole of it. Indeed, Be, you make that case very well. People can get all kinds of conventional therapy and still be insecure, selfish, ignorant, and unaware beings who neither know of the plights of others, or, upon learning of them, care or respond in any meaningful way.
As you mentioned in conflating spirituality and psychology, there are those who are have spiritual or religious affiliation or practice who are the same way. Just going to a therapist or a guru, just talking about your childhood or assuming a particular posture while reciting a mantra, may relieve some of the more superficial knots in our minds and bodies, but by themselves they are extremely unlikely to reach the depths were the biggest blockages to our sense of wholeness, security, meaning, and unconditional love. So no, just having a spiritual practice or a shrink is no guarantee of profound spiritual transformation. That doesn’t mean however that sincere and diligent spiritual practice, suited to the individual, with the guidance of a qualified teacher (whether it be a priest, minister, monastic, imam, guru, or lay person) and a supportive community cannot or does not provide the opportunity to reveal and melt such deep blockages and reveal/increase access to this truer, wiser, more compassionate self.
As I stated in my original comment, it isn’t a matter of waiting to engage in informed and skillful acts which do good for others until one has completed this spiritual journey. In fact, all sacred traditions include such behavior as part of the journey. On the other hand, this doesn’t justify poo-pooing or dismissing the importance of having more people engaging in such a journey, nor does it diminish the impact that such transformation has on communities at levels, including societal. The fact that some people are spiritually immature or even embrace an anti-spiritual form of religion does not negate the power of genuine spiritual awakening. To re-state something again from my original post, I can’t say what Tolle intended, and he may be presenting things in a too simplistic or superficial fashion, but if the whole world (heck, if a tenth of the world, shoot, make it five percent) had a major, profound shift in spiritual awareness on the order of a Buddha or a Christ (assuming again for the sake of argument that such a spiritual nature is real and that fully awakening to it is possible), it seems strange to say it would have no significant impact on social justice.
Yes, many social justice movements of the 20th century were rooted in love, but also many were secular. By 1963 the majority of people in the civil rights movement were strategically nonviolent. They weren’t there in a religious, spiritual or love based form. Plus, Glenn Beck’s movement is also based on love.
Again, I would suggest a careful second reading of my original comment. I hate to keep mentioning it, but it does feature a clear discussion of love and the common meanings people give to that term as well as how these different meanings relate to how people understand spirituality. That discussion responded to this initial kind conflation of the meaning and use of the word love (“Glenn Beck’s movement is about love, etc”), therefore requires no elaboration or clarification at this time.
As for the social justice movements of the twentieth century, they all had deep spiritual roots. Other movements may have continued these original sparks or have drawn their inspiration from them, but how many originated on their own in a strictly secular way? And how many of those, if we can find them (and I am referring to social movements here, not just a few people writing a charter and starting an organization that didn’t go anywhere or which simply attached itself to a movement), what impact did they have and how long did they last? While I do not argue it here, a case can be made that in fact the movements of the 1960s were a combination of disillusionment with the social institutions (civic, religious, familial, etc) of the day and a longing for a genuine spiritual transformation. Thus they may not have always identified with formal religion identities and structures, the flower powered, crystal vibrating, Age of Aquarius greeting, counter-cultural revolutionaries of that time were not anti-spiritual.
Moreover, as the movement(s) became more overtly secular and directly political, they began to lose steam and to fracture into smaller factions. People can debate whether or not that was a coincidence, but by the 1970s these factions were competing with each other over ideology and methodology. This loss of coherence can be coupled to a lost of impact, and by the early 1980s the movements of the 1960s were openly ridiculed in mainstream America as a bunch of naive dope users who “didn’t get” how the world works while the movements coming out of the 1970s were painted as a collection of shrill, un-fun party-poopers who want to control everyone through government and blame every problem on white men. I am not suggesting that these are accurate or fair characterizations, only to review the basic history of the rise of the mostly-secular left in the United States and its public image.
This is why I suggested that progressives would do well to remember their spiritual roots in my original post. Not because they all need to convert to (a particular) religion, and certainly not so they can mine inspirational sounding quotes, sermons, or examples from sacred traditions and divorce them from their context, but so that they might recognize the power of spiritual transformation in healing people at a deep level and the power of such whole, transformed people in effecting lasting, meaningful change. Progressives would do well to honor and welcome the energy, patience, generosity, vision, and compassion that spiritual transformation brings, appreciate how these benefits in turn can revitalize and maintain social justice movements, and include it as a fundamental part of the effort to heal the world.
Again, I offer my comment as a starting point for reflection, not as a final word on the matter. Whether or not people agree with the position I have tried to describe, I have offered it as a counter-balance and as a means of fostering mutual understanding. I make no personal claims of revelation or personal experience affirming or denying such spiritual reality or transformation.
There is such a tone of “separation” by Scofield – and yes, Scofield has apparently “missed the point” in Tolle’s
writings. It is “both/and” …
I’m glad that Bo has taken on the relatively apolitical character of Echart Tolle’s expressed ideas, but I think he has underestimated the wisdom and importance of Tolle’s insight and efforts. Tolle is expressing a critical Tikkun idea that social transformation must carry within itself the emergence of authentic human Presence and inter-human empathy and compassion, not merely the reorganization of external social arrangements or political forms, or the redistribution of economic wealth or legal rights, as critical as these latter factors are in creating a better world. It is true that Tolle’s thought is not political enough, and it’s a good thing that Bo has written an extensive piece pointing this out, but in my view the problem is Tolle’s inadequate account of the conditioning of the ego as a socially constructed phenomenon installing an alienated identity within each of us that cannot simply be transcended by a private awakening. To my mind that it is this conditioning-in-alienation that is at the heart of social separation and resulting social and political injustice, a world corroded by Fear of the Other and producing Buber’s world of I-It rather than I-Thou. But while Bo is fair in his account of much of what Eckhart Tolle says and correct to make the general criticism of the lack of socially-deep politics in his work, I think he does understate the brilliance and importance of Tolle’s insight into the nature of authentic Presence and of the central element of spiritual transformation in social change which must be part of a new post-Marxist vision of a universal social movement. A New Earth is an excellent book that spiritual activists can gain a great deal from and that shouldn’t be casually dismissed.
Thanks Peter. I’m all for personal and psychological development, healing and growth. This can occur through therapy, yoga or religious groups. I’m specifically speaking about Tolle’s claim that connecting with Being will transform the planet. It is entirely possible to have the whole world resolve their mommy and daddy issues and other wounds and yet still be complicit with and supportive of some of the worst injustices in their cultures and the globe.
Nothing I said is against people growing or developing compassion in our work for progressive change. I’m merely saying that both KKK members and left-wing anarchists can grow equally and nothing socially/structurally would be advanced. This inner compassion doesn’t necessarily support a left-wing political agenda.
Nothing I’m saying has to do with personal or psychological development or “development” at all, or what you dismiss as “mommy and daddy issues”. It’s got nothing to do with “psychology”. It’s got to do with the inter-human nature of existence itself, in which we become present through the emergence of mutual recognition, which is a hallmark of transformative political action. Although Tolle himself is too silent about this, the depth of what he’s speaking to is inconsistent with racism, KKK-ism, violent Buddhist fascists, class domination, all that. The problem with Eckhart is that he is so far largely silent on issues of social justice and politics, and I’m glad you are saying that. But his ideas–if shifted into the inter-human social realm instead of remaining pooled up in the privatized individual–are important. To the extent that he remains affiliated with the quest for private spiritual solutions to life because of how he presents his ideas…well that is definitely a problem. But I think you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially in a left culture that does not understand the importance of the spiritual dimension of politics and social change (of the change itself and not something spiritual added on to it)..As a spokes person for what the spiritual dimension of life IS, and how it contrasts with egoic self-identity, he’s important.
Yes, I think we actually agree. You are admitting that Tolle isn’t talking about what you are wanting him to talk about. If Tolle were talking about the intermutuality of human beings and how we can acheive that through group experiences, interpersonal transformative practices and justice measures then it’d be a different article. I’m not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I’m critiquing Tolle for repeatedly saying that the light of consciousness is all that is needed. What does that have to do with more thorough, experiential, transformative, educational methods to achieves social change? I’m saying that’s what we need and thats what I value. As you admit – Tolle isn’t talking about those things and that’s why I’m critiquing him. My last sentence said “let’s build the networks of relationships and communities…” – you are saying that’s what we need, me too 🙂
Would you say that The Secret and it’s creator Rhonda Byrne are important spokespeople for spirituality? I think she produced a magical, fairy tale of a book that is damaging. But yet she has sold millions of copies. Is it not possible that Tolle is in the same camp as The Secret? Magical thinking, exaggerated claims, distorted views…etc.
Besides, it’s an entirely separate argument about whether or not Tolle’s teachings are valid for personal growth. I admitted that he’s helped a lot of people. Again, I’m not debating that he has helped people or that there is truth in his teachings. But rather I’m saying that he out of all people takes these claims to extremes and then people think that the only thing they need is personal transformation. Nor am I saying that people don’t need personal transformation – of course everyone does. I’m merely saying that Tolle’s work doesn’t actually address or create the intermutuality that you and I both are wanting despite his claims that it does.
Peter and Be,
I am reminded of John Dominic Crossan’s latest book “the greatest prayer,” on the Lord’s prayer. The central idea is that both love and justice matter- it is almost meaningless to talk about one without the other. The reason Marxism and Communism failed, in Crossan’s mind, is because they tried to have justice without love. Too often, people like Eckhart commend love without justice.
Unfortunately, Be’s criticism is spot on. I wish it didn’t have to be as harsh, but who else is bringing up the points Be makes on a consistent basis- polemics work sometimes. I encourage you to go to the bookstore and just look at how many ego-bashing, inward looking psychologically oriented tomes of spirituality there are today. It is staggering. And yet there is no sociological self help section, because as you say, the change that needs to happen is in the interpersonal space as much or more than the intrapersonal, and we will not be whole as individuals until we are whole as a people and as a planet. People forget that there is a world beyond their individual subjective experience-We are spiritually autistic, as Thomas Berry said. We have been so inundated with 1.) inadequate, inwardly focused spirituality 2.) fundamentalism 3.) lifeless/souless, and too often loveless calls for justice by people hostile to Spirit that we desperately need the fourth space Be is articulating (and Tikkun as well)- a vision of planetary healing that includes but goes beyond the psychological, and into the social and cosmic dimensions of our being.
READ Tolle’s books. Understand the words. The above criticism reveals the author doesn’t understand what Tolle is saying. Read the book several times. Tolle makes human beings very transparent and how we become DOING what we do very frightening. His book is amazing and this discussion does not even begin to break it down so that we can understand what has happened to us. Be Scofield does not do Tolle’s book justice and he is arguing from an obscured foundation of assertions that really are crazy with unsupportable conclusions to boot!!. I hate it when human beings do this to each other. It’s just more of the same misunderstandings and taking sides distorting what is happening to us as a species on this earth now. What is your time on earth worth that we will not take the time to realize what we are and how we can rise above our circumstances. Marketers have figured us out a bit and want us to focus on consuming things. New media understand how to raise our ire and fears. They tell us to keep buying through the internet if it’s too hot or too dangerous to go out. A lot of important issues they simply ignore. Are we really going to give up so easily? It IS up to us to know some things. I would recommend taking the Landmark Forums. They give one an experience of how we got to this crossroads in time and what we can do about it if we care enough to make a world hospitable for all human beings. There could be a new consciousness and it will be more global than ever before. Our technology was enabled us to reach this point but our technology will not solve our myriad of problems. We need our moral compass to make justice and fairness cooperate on our behalf. We are an endangered species too. A condition of being too many of us could be unleashed to do us in. On the other hand, being civilized, self disciplined and rational might save us if we understood ourselves better.. Read TOLLE and stop criticizing him. Understand what he says first. Then join a conversation about what concerns you. Take the Landmark Forums.
I don’t want to get I into the detail of this- but there is a useful point here..
Tolle looks inward- but to be ‘self-disciplined, civilzed & rational’ (as one commenter puts it) doesn’t need any spiritual change. At all. It may even be that all this spiritual self-concern gets in the way- pre-occupying us, when what is needed is absolutely material in character..
So what else is new??
This line has been peddled for at least 70 years–see Norman Vincent Peale The Power of Positive Thinking –published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 consecutive weeks, and according to the publisher, Simon and Schuster, the book has sold around 5 million copies (Wikipedia says 7 million)
Nice article. To me, it highlights a key point: if all of those millions reading Tolle’s work would demand social change for those around them and the poorest among us, the world would have to notice. It also raises for the me the question of alienation and exploitation–those reading his books might actually benefit from realizing that their unhappiness might also be systemic, in a system in which the rich get richer while the masses are browsing the aisles at shopping centers for the next new way of quelling their unhappiness. That’s why I like the idea of love in action. Do you love the world? Then don’t keep it to yourself–get engaged in social justice work.
Bo said,”There are of course millions of Americans oblivious to the realities of racism and injustice who have done profound inner transformational work and who have connected with the “light of consciousness.”
I often wonder how anyone can make these sweeping statements about millions of people without a shred of evidence except an elitism that appears to be Bo’s “power of now”.
There are over 30 million people who practice yoga in the U.S. alone. Many meditate, pray, attend spiritual/religious ceremonies, go to retreat centers and more. Thus, these people are doing what Tolle asks – stilling their minds, connecting with Being and tuning into their bodies. None of this had made white people any more eager to give up their privilege and power in society so that it can be more equitable. Even Tolle himself has shown no awareness of racism. He’s completely ignorant of it. He like many millions of others have been engaging in these practices for decades but yet there is no waking up to white privilege, racism or structural inequality. This comes from actually doing social justice work and education.
Okay; to sum up. Be seems to be pointing out that millions of people have read Tolle’s books and only heard the message that conforms to their current self-image and thereby justified further naval gazing. Indeed. Untold millions have read spiritual teachings and have missed the point which is not to say that their lives weren’t improved in the attempt to apply said teachings. Perhaps Be is unable or unwilling to make a distinction between inner work on one’ psyche and attaining a “wholistic” mind, body, soul awareness and is decidedly not narcissistic but extending naturally towards others. In Zen teaching, there is no entity called “me” that can attain anything. There is only what all sentient beings have always been which is noumenon; the non-manifestation of non-being or the absence of non-phenoumenality. The double negative way of saying this is an intentional attempt to remove all trace of subject/object dualism. In the end, we still chop wood and carry water or whatever it is that needs doing and that can include social justice work. Thich Nat Han is an excellent example of this.
My point is that Tolle’s message is only focused on the interior privatized dimension – not just that people interpret it that way. His statements are irresponsible. He believes psychological growth will be a panacea for global change. That’s exactly what he is saying and that’s what I’m critiquing.
Even if one does embrace a more wholistic mind, body, soul, approach and then care extends towards others – this doesn’t mean that they will change political ideologies or give up eating meat from the animal industrial complex or learn anything about deforestation. One can be oblivious to things like microagressions for example – the small and often unconscious ways in which we act out of fear in response to people of other races, sexes, identities…etc. These things are conditioned in us over many years. No amount of spiritual practice will make one do these less. Only through unlearning them via trainings, groups, education and awareness can one begin to intervene on them.
People can do these spiritual practices all day and think they are extending more towards others but yet be profoundly unaware of the realities of injustice that surround them. They can become more present, nice and compassionate – but this will be limited to what already frames their social, cultural and political ideology.
You seem to believe that Tolle’s message is irresponsible. That would be your opinion. No amount of subjective “evidence” you cite is going to change it into a fact. “He believes psychological growth will be a panacea for global change”. That would be your interpretation of Tolle’s writing. You’d have to quote some of Tolle’s work for me to give what you’re saying more credence. I’m not that familiar with him. What little I read seemed simplistic. He’s not saying anything new. I don’t believe he is responsible for the inaction, “magical” beliefs and willful ignorance of millions of people. You make some points but I can’t agree with your conclusions concerning spiritual practices. A lack of action does not equate with a lack of awareness. It’s true that one can become more spiritual, aware, open, kind and still retain their underlying culturally indoctrinated beliefs and prejudices. So what? You can’t force people to become more aware and informed about issues you and I think are important. It’s a battle for hearts and minds. The people I’ve know to be motivated solely by ideology tended to be doctrinaire, didactic and intolerant of disagreement. I don’t know what the answer is to get more people engaged in social/environment justice. I don’t know why people are not more engaged right now. I can only speculate. The older I get the less I’m inclined to label myself or others but to quote Wei Wu Wei, “All forms of spiritual practice is learning to slay dragons.”
Come on, Be, check it out. I think your key argument is off target here. The primary tenet you are arguing is a core principle of so many mystics, prophets, religions, spiritual insights. You’re swimming upstream! I’d be interested to see you spend a little more time challenging the limited “acceptance, joy, enthusiasm” idea that Tolle lays out, IMHO.
Take it easy. Have a good summer.
Here’s a beautiful passage:
“The first peace, which is the most important,
is that which comes within the souls of people
when they realize their relationship,
their oneness, with the universe and all its powers,
and when they realize that at the center
of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit),
and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.
The second peace is that which is made between two individuals,
and the third is that which is made between two nations.
But above all you should understand that there can never
be peace between nations until there is known that true peace,
which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”
Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Spiritual Leader (1863 – 1950)
from The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953), as told to Joseph Epes Brown
good job be.
i think tolle is spiritual pulp – and his “awakening” might be something we could interpret as a “depersonalization.” in psychological he comes across as somewhat dissociated and schizoid to me.
i wonder when the deep pain and self-loathing he felt in his early life will resurface and require some serious integration.
basically he has ridden the wave of an increasing popular appetite for the “neo-adveita” or pop interpretation of non-dual vedantic philosophy, which basically encourages a realization of the transcendent true self beyond mind, attachments and even the material world.
this philosophical mind-game is based on various strategies of circular reasoning and mystification and relies on the beneficial nature of certain meditative states to then make unwarranted claims about what these states mean about the nature of human consciousness and the ultimate reality of the universe.
all of it comes from both a kind of renouncing of the importance of the material world (with all of its suffering and struggle) and a kind of metaphysical idealism that holds consciousness as the ultimate reality.
of course this is very popular with privileged folks who want to abdicate any responsibility to or feelings about the world we (and especially oppressed or victimized people) live in, and also with those who don’t want to do the spiritual work of hunkering down and dealing honestly with our existential reality.
Be Scofield’s critique is based on a false premise: That the inner transformation or “awakening” that Tolle speaks of is a “a privatized psychological shift.” Although Mr. Tolle described and experienced a psychological breakdown of sorts that precipitated his own inner transformation, the actual experience (even by his own description of it) transcends a psychological shift of egoic consciousness to a state of consciousness *beyond ego.* A transformation of the type Tolle experienced does not require psychiatric breakdown as much as it requires an extraordinary surrender of one’s attachment to form. For some, this is accompanied by or precipitated by a psychiatric crisis, but it is not a requirement. And the outcome of inner transformation of this type cannot be fully understood or even recognized by the egoic mind, but by an aspect of self that is beyond ego or mind. Therefore, although Mr. Scofield makes a thoughtful and reasoned argument, his error is in “listening” and trying to understand Tolle through the prism or lens of the egoic mind. And in imagining that the state Tolle describes is an ordinary psychological state, such as the state of a “healthy” person. A “healthy” person in our culture is a person with a healthy ego. This is not the state of consciousness that Tolle is speaking or writing from.
The answers to Be Scolfield’s concerns about the political and social implications of more people reaching the state of consciousness that Tolle speaks of are found from within the state itself. When one is truly free of ego, one is no longer bound by any of the social or political forms of society as it is presently constituted. One can live within them, but is not bound by any aspect of them. The realization that we are All One Conscious Body has us automatically respecting each other as though each individual is our own self. The social and political structures of racism, sexism, capitalism (involving economic exploitation of many for the sake of the few)– none of these forms are attached to any longer as legitimate ways of living and relating. These structures cannot even arise from the transcendent state. “-Isms” are created from mind, which experiences reality through a prism of limitation and therefore fear. If I experience myself as a lone individual, then I immediately need to “do stuff” in order to “stay alive.” If I identify as limitless consciousness, then I am life itself. From this state, the only social and political structures that make any sense would involve true freedom for all through conscious inter-dependency and co-creation.
An interesting article to begin a dialogue, for sure!
What you are saying is that Eckhart Tolle is a realized being and unable to harm others. Unfortunately many followers of spiritual gurus, cult leaders and others have the same exact beliefs about their teachers. When these leaders then abuse, lie, cheat or do other things that are less than realized it makes it much more difficult to critically examine these behaviors because they’ve been taught that anything the master does comes from a realized place of being. I find this very dangerous thinking and very problematic. Plus, Tolle is still human and participates in the larger cultural practices of racism and sexism – you can’t avoid them.
The state of mind that you speak about – one that is entirely disembodied and pure doesn’t exist. And if it does exist it never supercedes the reality of cultural and social conditioning. The Dalai Lama himself has said homophobic things and said you can’t masturbate – yet he says its ok if a man is with a prostitute. How realized is that? Again, the entire monastic, ethical and religious system of Zen Buddhism during the war and before it supported the worst crimes imaginable.
Eckhart Tolle’s message is really no different in essence than centuries of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other non-dualistic, mystical traditions. There is no inherent opposition between activism and non-dual spiritual practice, as the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and myriad other socially engaged traditions and spiritually inspired social justice movements demonstrate. Dr. King, Thich Nhat Hahn, etc, etc. Social justice awareness and practice can only be enhanced by cultivating the ability to slow down and be present with what is happening moment to moment all around us, and to be able to respond to situations out of creativity and love instead of reactivity. Finally, much of what Eckhart Tolle and other mystics are pointing to must be practiced and experienced to be understood. The intellect and tools of analysis cannot get us through the doorway.
I want to express my appreciation for Be Scofield for initiating this discussion even if the response wasn’t what he might’ve hoped for. I believe it’s an important one to have given current conditions in the world. My spiritual and social justice awareness began forming more than 40 years ago and it’s been a non-linear process (like all processes in nature) so I’ve been grappling with this paradigm for a long time. That doesn’t mean I think I’m an “expert” or have all the answers. Far from it. From where I sit, unless conditions drastically change or an unprecedented shift in mass human consciousness occurs, catastrophic events will literally visit our doorsteps. I do agree with Vanissar’s statements. One’s ability to effectively participate in social activism can be enhanced by spiritual awareness and practice. Of course, one needs to be able to distinguish between direct non-dual experience of reality and mere conceptualization of “spiritual” ideas, as Vanissar pointed out. This distinction is likely unappreciated by those who do not perceive reality except through their concepts.
Be, my appreciation for your article. I wrote a reply to Marisa Handler’s reply, and posted it on my own site, as well as after hers: http://www.nadalila.org/a-response-to-scofield-handler-on-eckhart-tolle/
Basically, I think the issue – as you point out – is one of conflating spiritual awakening with social values. But awakening by its nature is individual, not social. And individual spiritual experience (like Tolle’s) has very little to do with the very relative actions of religious institutions (like Zen Buddhists in WWII or Sri Lankan Buddhists in Civil War, or ANY religion at war). But you give some sense of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “Getting in touch with … the source won’t save us now”. For sure it won’t. But it WILL save each person who does so. But that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily make good social/political choices because inner realization and social skills are quite different things…
Pardon Me… “God created humans to fulfill God’s divine destiny.” I never heard Tolle claim that God created Humans nor do i believe that he would ever assume such creationism bollocks.
Not unless you were implying that mice had the earth built as a living machine whose only purpose is to compute the meaning of life, of course – that would actually be a (though rather comically) metaphor by Douglas Adams for what Tolle is referring to in that passage.
ACTUALLY, we are actually all on the same side, all passionately concerned with improving the state of our world, spiritual-internal and physical-external.
i think we all passionately strive and hope for the vital BALANCE that inner and outer life need to be restored soon.
we all have the same deep concern for our survival on all levels……..
and we all know that the balance and relationship between ”spirit” and ”body” is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest challenge we have been facing throughout history………..
out of awe and respect for its importance, i wish most of all for all of us to build a more gentle respect for one another’s differences, needs, and passionate involvement.
in the end, we’re all completely human and need each other’s support immensely. that’s why we are having this discussion.
This provocative article and ensuing discussion have given me a lot to think about, particularly about the interdependent nature of personal spiritual development and any form of active effort to ‘heal the world’ as the title of this publication declares. Any activism that does not arise from love and compassion will ultimately be of little lasting positive impact; we have to do the homework, whatever the spiritual ‘school’ might be, to develop the ability to see through notions of self and other so as to embrace both joyfully, despising none – then we can really go out and lovingly kick a** by building relationships, opening eyes, shining light on inequity, etc. etc. I lost interest in listening to Tolle somewhere in the middle of “A New Earth” but thought he had some useful, if not original, things to say – I’m intrigued by what could have spurred such a vehement critique here but don’t feel any particular need to be his apologist. However, the old saw says “when the student is ready, the teacher arrives” – I think people summon into being what they need and want as well as what they fear and hate (and NO, I’m not talking about a clever marketing scheme of a few years back to dupe people into paying good money for a pseudo-mystical equivalent of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault). Certainly Tolle has struck a chord and filled a need in his audience. It is well worth attempting to unpack what he is saying and consider why it has resonated with so many, and what lasting impact, if any, his reprocessed presentation of Eastern spirituality might have. People are a lot more likely to read Tolle than the Lotus Sutra or even (unfortunately) Shunryu Suzuki’s completely accessible “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” May they find in his pages something of value that brings them a little peace or helps them in their relationships in some way. One would hope that with less self-absorption and/or anger clouding ones vision that issues of institutional/structural racism, white and male and heterosexual privilege, etc. can more easily appear on ones radar and that a person who practices compassion will have the tools to engage more powerfully and effectively with issues of injustice. Definitely a connection needs to be made between the two, maybe no one teacher is up to the task of covering all the bases though. Thanks again for prompting a lot of thought.
It saddens me to read both Scofield’s highly critical article…and the somewhat self-stroking responses from some others (who apparently are doing good work in their own fields) to justify the criticism.
To share one’s own views/beliefs/experiences is one thing; to use them as a platform to relentlessly judge and criticize the profound work of another (Tolle in this instance) creates such a limiting and destructive field.
No one person or way of practice can be everything to everyone…”it takes a village”. Most works are necessary today (whether it be in the silence of one’s heart, in the busyness of activism or on the printed page) to “reach” humanity and participate in this Great Transformation: the evolutionary creation of a new Humanity and a new Earth.
Let us use this unprecedented time in a more supportive discussion – and in support of another’s calling – even though we may not agree or yet “see” the immediacy and the totality of its purpose.
Hmm, to me this article has a rather bitter, if not angry tone.
Looks like a lot of attachment for someone with the first name of ‘Be’. But let’s not get in the realm of personal attacks.
So did the Buddha call for activism? Did Ghandi say “Enforce the change you want to see in the world? Didn’t Zen say “If the student is ready, the teacher will appear”?
In a world where a video showing a Ford leaving skidmarks all over San Francisco gets 8 million views within the first 24 hours of its release on youtube, an effective, albeit incomplete message that nudges ‘the common man’ towards mindfulness is needed more than anything. It is an art to package profound and potentially resistance-provoking ideas in bite-sized easy-to-digest (chicken mc) nuggets of wisdom, that even a typical McDonalds customer finds palpable. Eckhard Tolle has mastered this art.
Those of us who are ready for more will eventually read on. Because when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
“After this profound inner shift Tolle claims to have lived in a “state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss” for around five months. He studied spiritual texts, worked with teachers and eventually spent two years in a state of profound joy while sitting on park benches. He was realizing that his shift in thinking had peeled back the layers to reveal the “ever-present ‘I am’: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.””
The problem I have with an emphasis on trying to get beyond identification with form is that the effort collapses when I have a migraine headache. I’m not trying to be facetious here. The truth is I am here in form, whatever my state of consciousness prior to identifying with it, and so are other people, animals, plants, minerals, etc. In whatever ways we might, at moments, transcend the limits of form to find a pure state of consciousness, form is not dispensable, at least not where we are now.
My concern with the kind of neo-gnostic approach that Tolle seems to be promoting is that, consciously or not, it undermines identification with suffering, with form. I think we have to identify with the suffering of others to actively engage and change the structures that are causing it. I don’t believe that inner peace is always appropriate. In the presence of injustice, we should not feel peaceful. What some call “reactivity” I might call responsiveness, and trying to achieve tranquility in the face of it can’t help but distance me from the suffering of others. In desiring transcendence, I think we must ask ourselves, what are we willing to transcend? The truth about animal and human suffering in systems that we are supporting each day we are trying to achieve pure consciousness for ourselves? I am truly glad that Tolle was released from his inner pain, but I do think a simplified, generalized leap is made from his personal healing to how to heal the world. I think Be Scofield has raised some legitimate criticisms of this kind of spiritual approach.
Hmmn…very unkind words– Buddhist Facists? Wow…Hoping people understand that Eckhart Tolle is a kind gentle soul and his words do get wildly misunderstood… hmmn.. our painbodies do get triggered..eh? Peace.
This article was helpful to me precisely because I tend to lean toward Tolle’s view of spirituality and the world, yet creating a just and loving world also requires attention to ethics and social justice. I gave a track back to this article on my own blog where I examined some aspects of spirituality and social reform in “Longing for the Peaceable Kingdom: A Brief History of Hope in Modern Times at http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/2012/07/longing-for-peaceable-kingdom.html
Ms. Price’s comment goes I think to alot of what I object to in Be’s piece and as Dave so eloquently pointed out using the word conflate…. both approaches or sides in this debate desire justice but the what i’ll call rationalists insist that the way to get there is organizing, activisim and that contemplation, seeking presence is a distraction while the Tolle-way-ists say that when the ego is dissolved one’s behavior will shift toward justice, that is the natural state. Be scoffs at this but I think if we all review those moments when we felt ONEness, those glimpses of peace that come more or less to all of us over our lives (ever more frequently & lengthy with “practice” – according to Tolle) then we must admit that there IS a shared, natural ethic. In those moments the “miracle” of being is self-evident and the fear-driven ego has no power to force it’s agenda of power-seeking for the illusion of safety superiority. we don’t have to persuade ourselves or others to “love”… love is the felt interconnection and behavior coming out of that is loving. My fear is that it just doesn’t work. I feel little closer to Tolle’s notion of enlightenment today than several years ago when I began reading a new earth. A little change to a life-long habitual mind-chatter addiction. My commitment wans, I drift back into old patterns.
Thank you Be for your–in my opinion–important article, and to all others for the conversation. I studied with Eckhart Tolle starting in 2000, was trained by him as a group facilitator, and lead a weekly “Power Of Now Group” in a large spiritual center in Santa Rosa, CA for four years. Eckhart’s work was very helpful for my spiritual growth, which is a particular and important developmental line of human growth and potentials. I credit Eckhart for helping millions to develop this line. Alas, as Be and many have pointed out, it is not enough to move us forward as a humanity in a peaceful and suatinable way, while, at the same time, being sourly needed and correctly understood/placed into our cultural context (see Wilber-Combs Lattice for starters).
Once I realized through Ken Wilber’s, Allan Combs’s et al. work that spiritual, psychological, moral/ethical and consciousness development (and about 20 other developmental lines that emerge independently in humans) plus shadow work (which Eckhart does not deem necessary, which is a big flaw of his teaching) are all vital to our “beingness”, I moved on (transcend AND include) from Eckhart’s–in my opinion– limited thinking (or non-thinking for that matter). After immersing myself for 6 years in a world of magical thinking and social/environmental/psychological spiritual bypassing (see John Welwood and Robert Augustus Masters for the latter) and started to speak up, I was kicked out of the Spiritual Center that still claims to love, accept and include everyone.
Our world is extremely complex and in need of Enlightened activism. Activism that comes from a “spiritual” base of love, presence, surrender, compassion AND competence that is based in a world- or cosmo-centric level of consciousness, world-view or meaning-making (which has NOTHING to do with Spiritual development). Competence in a particular field is often painfully missing from the spiritual by-passers that Eckhart et al. created… but we do not need to throw out the Baby with the bathwater because of that. Eckhart, in my personal experience, is a realized master and has transmission capabilities. It would just be so wonderful if he would see/explain the limitations of his teachings, would change his lifestyle (I drive an SUV and go to Starbucks), and become an Integrally Informed loving, spiritual, competent, world-centric activist, which Be is essentially asking of him and his followers.
I read Be Scofield’s article about the writings of Eckhart Tolle. I could not read every word. Nor can I read every word of each reply. I did my best to read a great deal of the article and responses. I find it a fascinating topic. I have read the writings of Eckhart Tolle and understand why they are being read by millions of people all over the world. Having had an “awakening’ experience October 1966 (yes, awakening to my full consciousness of who I really am — totally “unveiled.”), it would be impossible to define in human language what I experienced. The veil came over me again and I delved into the “work” to be there all the time. That included therapy (the psychological) and spiritual transformational studies, meditation, prayer (directed intention, not theological prayer.) I became aware of the need for a spiritual master to guide me through the inner planes (gross, subtle, mental). I experienced these planes. I was “grabbed” by that master, Avatar Meher Baba. Then I was intuitively led to study the Pathwork lectures and still do. I read esoteric teachers — Alice Bailey and others.I practice Non-Violent Communication and continue in all manner of support systems to live what I know. That includes being an environmental activist, anti-racist and working for world peace and supporting those individuals and groups that take action for social, political and ideological change and transformation. I make distinctions in those two words. We do not always have change that includes transformation. Transformation is living at a more developed consciousness and higher vibration. Yes, we are compressed energy (just ask Einstein), thoughts originate in the universal mind, they do not originate in our individual brains, and we can influence others in many ways. I am trained in bio-energetics and know we can change our level of vibrations. We can change the world by taking action and by “being present.” When we bring our unconscious to consciousness, change our thought patterns, we create new neural pathways and affect the entire creation. My teachers (read Meher Baba’s discourses and “God Speaks” and you will understand what we are about.) We need prisons. We need to restrain those beings who are harming others by wars, prejudice, polluting the earth, making products for profit that destroy the environment, and on and on. However, when we hate them, when we create divisions of either/or, them or us, your or me, we create more suffering. It is possible to abhor an action, an attitude, a belief without hating and seing the other as wrong or bad. Even evil has a divine core. And evil must be restrained. Humanity is now evolving consciously and is gradually knowing that we are One. If I harm someone else, I am also harming myself. As strange as it seems, we have more “love” on this earth than ever before. Humanity is evolving. The chaos has to arise. It always existed. In many cases it was suppressed. Just as an individual cannot grow and change without facing one’s faults while at the same time learning to love oneself (look at the 12-step programs), neither can countries change while having suppressed hundreds and thousands of years of hatred as witnessed in the Slovak countries, Soviet Union, Uganda and other countries in upheaval as the buried transgressions, divisions and hatreds come to the surface. There is some order in chaos. Out of the chaos will come transformation. It is painful. There are enough conscious individuals to create a critical mass. You just do not read about much of this in the popular media. Read the book, “The Hundredth Monkey.” The monkeys on one island washed their potatoes for the first time and then monkeys on another island, never exposed to the washers, began washing their potatoes. We are all connected. As the Pathwork Guide has stated, “One lower self aspect transformed can change the world more than an altruistic act without an inner transformation. Indeed it affects the whole world.” (paraphrased) I don’t read into Eckhart Tolle’s books any preaching that one should just “be” and never take an action to end suppression in any form. He has summed up what I have learned in many, many teachings and what I experience. The words themselves cannot make one know what he is saying. The words can stimulate as they have Be Scofield. He is grappling and doing his best to be rational. Language is limited when attempting to express that which has no words. I am a 75 year old woman. Mother and grandmother. Teacher in private schools and spiritual teacher of transformation in private practice. I look pretty ordinary. Very few people know what I have experienced. I know to be selective and private. One cannot force the “unveiling.” I suffer as the world suffers and I am an activist, and I am a devotee of Meher Baba, and I attempt to give everything to Higher Power admitting I (from my ego) am powerless, and I take actions based on the highest form of love, right use of will. I regularly fall off the straight and narrow path and I am grateful I have a path that unfolds as I unfold. So be it.
Well put Marian, well put! Thank you. Martin