Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher and author of the bestseller The Power of Now, which I read after one of my clients highly encouraged me to do so. I’ve read A New Earth twice now (well, read once then listened to the unabridged audiobook) and prefer it to The Power of Now. Perhaps I’ll give The Power of Now another try, but I felt like Tolle was saying the same message over and over in that book, which can neatly be summed up in the title.
In general, I would say that, in A New Earth, Tolle is taking spiritual messages that have their roots in Eastern religions and philosophies and reinterpreting these for a more Western audience. But he also taps into teachings from the New Testament and Jesus’ sayings and puts them into more of an Eastern point of view. Thus, he taps in teachings from Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, Sufism, Hinduism, the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, Rumi’s poetry, Christian mysticism, and A Course in Miracles, as well as teachings of Jesus, the Buddha, Krishnmurti, Meister Eckhart, and Ramana Maharshi.
Although I don’t believe that Tolle is really saying anything new, he is putting old teachings into his voice and oftentimes makes a powerful case for the need to break free of “the ego,” which is our false sense of self, and live more in the present moment.
Psychologists would call mostly what Tolle espouses to be variations of mindfulness teachings, which again come from Eastern religions and philosophies. To my knowledge, Tolle never uses the term “mindfulness” to describe his teachings and doesn’t really relate what he is saying to Western psychology.
I do really like A New Earth and have recommended it to some clients. I think he synthesizes Eastern teachings well and puts them into terms with which a Western audience can identify. Importantly, borrowing a teaching from Buddhism, Tolle is not the moon. He is merely a finger pointing at it. The significance and truth of what he is trying to say is not about him at all. He is trying to point to truths to which we can all identify when we are still and reflect upon our own lives and the world around. These same truths have been identified by countless other spiritiual teachers and related books over thousands of years. This fact alone says that there is something to them.
But I want to emphasize that A New Earth is not a religion, nor do I think Tolle is trying to found a religion. In fact, these same teachings are found in about every major religion. So, one does not have to be of a certain faith to benefit from this information. One can find these same teachings in pretty much any religion out there.
Now, here are a few caveats. Tolle is a bit of an odd bird. He said that he was pretty depressed throughout most of his life and was contemplating suicide at the age of 29 when he had a profound “awakening” which forever changed his life. In a sense, he dis-identified with his ego and has been living a fulfilling, very “present” life since that time.
Because Tolle gets a little out there at times, you might need to have an open mind to read this book. I just gloss over certain parts. But I want to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I think about 95% of what Tolle says makes sense and is very consistent with teachings from other philosophies as well as much of Western psychology.
Tolle comes across as a very thoughtful, deep-thinking individual who does not appear to get flustered by the things that typically cause most of us a lot of distress (e.g., fretting about the future, how others view us, regrets). I’ll assume this isn’t some grand affectation. He can get kind of “new age-y” sometimes but, as I said, I just skim over those parts.
Tolle frequently makes grand, unequivocal assertions about how humans and the world work without a shred of evidence to support what he is saying. Sometimes this bothers me, but then I question whether my own ego is getting in the way. Also, he does not “cite his sources.” For instance, it bothers me that he doesn’t give enough credit to the spiritual teachers who have influenced his thinking or from whom he borrows ideas. He is, as famously uttered by Sir Isaac Newton, “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Tolle did a 10-part interview series with Oprah Winfrey in which they went through A New Earth chapter by chapter with a global, Skype audience. They took questions from callers and answered emails from listeners as well. Each of these 10 webinars was 90 minutes long with the last one being 2 hours. All of these are available for free on iTunes if you look under “Podcasts” and do a search for “Oprah Tolle.” You can get these in video or audio format. I recommend the latter because it is just a dialog – there’s really nothing to watch.
I’m not a die-hard Oprah fan or anything, but I do think she means well, and I certainly don’t consider her the Anti-Christ! I think she did a nice job of rephrasing some of what Tolle said to make more understandable to listeners. Many people Skyped in with some wonderful questions.
All-in-all, I highly recommend A New Earth with the few caveats I listed. I don’t think he is some supra-guru or anyone to “follow.” He is but one of many spiritual teachers out there who are heavily influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies. I think he does a nice job of reinterpreting profound teachings from Eastern and other religions and making them more palatable to a Western audience.
I would recommend that you try the first 3 chapters and listen to each of the accompanying webinars as you go along. If you don’t like it at that point, there’s probably no use continuing. He has a particular way of writing and expressing things that resonates with many people, but is to everyone’s liking.
Please keep reading my blogs, and I promise to review other books that come at some of the same teachings but from much different angles than Tolle.