Eckhart Tolle

It's amazing what we get requests for at the bookstore - what people are willing to read, anyway.

As you all know, Oprah has been a boon for the publishing industry by plugging her vast audience into books - "Oprah's favorites" as they say. And she has stumbled upon a fellow named "Eckhart Tolle" who is interesting only for his, um, lack of interesting attributes.

According to wikipedia, he was born in 1948, in Germany. He lived with his father in Spain from about age 13 until he moved to England in his early 20s. He did not attend formal schooling after age 13, but rather took language and other courses. His bio says he "was educated at the Universities of London and Cambridge," but it doesn't list anywhere what degrees he received from either of those institutions. Then at age 29, he achieved or received what he calls "spiritual enlightenment", and I want to do the math here quickly. When Tolle was 29, it was either 1977 or 1978, and I mention that only because Tolle's book the Power of Now (1997) says his spiritual transformation occurred in 1980. It's an odd inconsistency, but not a deal-breaker - it just seems reasonable to me that if it took him 20 years to tell his own story, he would have some kind of narrative worked out that makes sense.

Here's a sampling of his very important, um, message:
In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, Jesus says to Martha, "You are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful." (Luke 10:41)

As I was writing A New Earth, people would sometimes ask me, "What is the new book about?" And invariably, my answer would be, "I only ever write or speak about one thing."

What is that one thing?

Spiritual awakening.

Can a person be awakened spiritually by a book?

Yes, if three conditions are met:

Firstly, there must be a readiness on the part of the reader, an openness, a receptivity to spiritual truth, which is to say, a readiness to awaken. For the first time in the history of humanity, large numbers of people have reached that point of readiness, which explains why millions have responded so deeply to The Power of Now.

Secondly, the text must have transformative power. This means the words must have come out of the awakened consciousness rather than the accumulated knowledge of a person's mind. Only then will a text be charged with that power, a power that goes far beyond the informational value of the words. That is why such a book can be read again and again and lose none of its aliveness.

Thirdly, the terminology used needs to be as neutral as possible so that it transcends the confines of any one culture, religion, or spiritual tradition. Only then will it be accessible to a broad range of readers world-wide, regardless of cultural background.
Now, you know, points for talking to Americans by first citing the Bible – that's marketing savvy. But what on Earth – or as Tolle might say, the New Earth -- does that have to do with anything?

But here's a much more interesting question: what does Tolle base his affirmation on? That is, what undergirds his statements in such a way that we ought to believe him?

It seems that Tolle appeals only to his own personal spiritual awakening as justification for making these claims. That is, he knows, and that's enough – if you want to know, or better still are ready to know, just listen to him speak "as neutral as possible" and you'll get it. It's practically self-evident, emphasis on "self".

I am sure I could spin out another 10,000 words on this one, but I found an Amazon review which is simply perfect, and it's written by a concerned Buddhist:
I will say this: Tolle has the brains to borrow liberally from the Great Eastern religions, but that does not make him an enlightened master. He is a salesman, and his own books are his primary product. He repeatedly congratulates readers for being "awakened" enough to read this crap, claiming that merely reading this book will take you to the next evolutionary level. Are you kidding me?? I'm sorry, folks, awakening takes a lot of effort -- your own -- and reading this claptrap won't get you there. Tolle anticipates this response, though, and says that his words only speak to those ready to be enlightened. Does that reek of the emperor's new clothes, or what? The instances of sloppy thinking are far too many to enumerate here; just pick a page and keep your eyes open. Being spiritual does not mean you should suspend all critical thinking! Although sometimes (if unintentionally) amusing, this book is a muddled, condescending, and deeply cynical waste of time.
Thanks. Back to your business.