Friday, July 22, 2011

On Eckhart Tolle and Mindfulness

I've never liked Eckhart Tolle. My primary arguments have been that he stole from other places without giving credit, and that the people he stole from were better writers and thinkers in the first place.

On the first concern:  Maybe it's because I'm a teacher, but I'm all about primary sources.  Yet don't we all steal from one another, re-work it a bit, then call it our own?  I'm not sure it's really that big a deal that the ideas he espouses aren't at all new.  Maybe it bothers me just because I've done the work of reading the original sources, and I feel like people are cheating by relying on Tolle.  But maybe that's a bad argument.

On the second concern:  This one has more merit.  Years ago I found a site comparing Tolle quotations to a philosophers - but I can't remember the philosopher (Aristotle? Plato? Lao Tzu?), and I can't find that site.  But suffice it to say that in a quote-to-quote comparison, Tolle falls short by a mile.  His axioms are pithy and often of little substantial meaning.  And he falls into a few serious fallacy traps.  Essentially, he presents information not in a way that we can contemplate and deliberate, but in a way that makes it impossible to disagree.  One blogger called this the "three cards 'mindfuck' trick." I can't find the originally author (anon), but I found the following here:
"(1) The Higher Level Card (i.e. Sorry, it's just over your head). Sorry, but you're just not smart enough to realize I am smarter than you, because you're on a lower (less divine) level.
(2) The Projection Card (i.e., I know you are, but what am I). By criticizing me, you are really just criticizing yourself, because any problem you see in me is just a projection of a problem in yourself.
(3) The Skillful Means Card (i.e., it's all your own fault, dickhead). The most potent card of all! It's not abuse; it's not pathetic or ridiculous or wrong; it's a crazy-wise teaching. You know, like Zen stuff. So when I call you a dickhead, it's not because I'm a dickhead, it's because you have a dickhead-complex that you need to evolve past, and I'm here to help you see that. 
They are designed to end all discussion, and they are used only when folks know the actual substance of their beliefs has run, or is running, dry....

In other words, these 'cards' are used to create a situation where actual problem solving, critical thinking and good philsophizing... cannot be done."
From comments on many Tolle-philic sites, it appears he suggests we all work towards enlightenment, but doesn't say how.  If you can't do it, you're doing it wrong, but he won't say what's wrong.  Maybe it's just not in you right now to do it.

The thing is, in other writings written hundreds of years earlier, there are specific techniques you can use to have a happier, more peaceful life, the type of like Tolle suggests you could have by reading his books.  Check out what Montaigne has to say:

* Try to stay in the present (cultivate mindfulness) by maintaining an amazement at each instant of experience both outside and inside yourself. He did this by writing, in detail, about everything around him and contemplating his thoughts.  Writing forced him to pay attention, but anything that keeps you involved in what's happening right now will work.  Some people need to be hit with a stick from time to time.  Whatever works.  He says,
"When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me."
* Don't let the world bring you down.  If you're upset, keep in mind how much worse it could be.  If your kids are irritating, imagine you just got a call that they all died in a tragic accident in order to shift your perspective so that you're suddenly grateful for their annoying little lives.  If you're tired of your stuff, imagine having nothing, and how happy you'd be to have it all after contemplating losing it all in a fire.  If the kids complain about dinner, remind them of how bad it would be if they lived in an impoverished country.  They should be overjoyed to be eating spaghetti yet again.  These are old tricks my parents taught me, but Montaigne suggests them too.  You can talk this further to imagine that this is the last hour of your life.  What really matters, and what can you brush off now?

* Keep in mind how insignificant you and your problems are compared to the grand scheme of things.  Seneca said,
"Place before your mind's eye the vast spread of time's abyss, and consider the universe; and then contrast our so-called human life with infinity."
Another advocate of this view in the Monty Python organ donor skit (starting at 3:45 in particular):

* A lot of Montaigne (and Tolle) is reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching, particularly when he suggests we would be better off contemplating ideas than memorizing facts.  This one is a real relief in an age where there just seems too much to know.  Montaigne says, "Forget much of what you learn." And Lao Tzu says, "The more you know, the less you understand."  Facts aren't as firm as we give them credit for being.  Suspend judgment on all these facts thrown at us.  Who knows what's real.

* To keep me in mind of morality, my mom always said, "Don't do anything you wouldn't want published on the front of the newspaper."  Seneca and Epicurus and Montaigne all suggest finding someone admirable and acting always as if that person is watching us.

* Distract yourself from what bothers you, particularly what you're unable to control.  If that jerk at work makes you nuts, don't carry the annoyance home, but leave work with a mind to do something entertaining that will help you forget your troubles.  This is a welcome break from the idea that if someone bothers us, we should delve deep into why it's such a problem for us, often going back into family of origin crap to determine if we're projecting our stuff on him, until the jerkiness is no longer so bothersome to us.  Whew!  I like that distraction idea much better.

Montaigne, and several older philosophers, say that generally, the secret to happiness is not to let your emotions get the better of you.  These are ways to help you do that:  Pay attention to right now, compare yourself to those worse off to feel better, keep the big picture in mind, don't obsess over details, act as if your idol was watching you, and distract yourself if you start losing it.  The trick is, these are things to think about not just one or twice, but all the time.  But, it is inevitable we will be sucked back into the drama of human desire and suffering surrounding us.  That's okay.  Just get back into it next time you remember and you'll feel much better.

You can't do the pure-being-ball-thing all day (from I (Heart) Huckabees):



  1. This is a great post. I read Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth. Found the book to be great and a good reminder of what we need to do, however you are completely right in the fact that many other philosophers have previously written about this, and yes, even in a better way. However I found it still to be a good reminder and have now taken up mindfulness meditation to make sure it is not my "ego" that is at the forefront of my reality.

  2. Hi Olesya. Well, whatever works I guess. I find Seneca and Montaigne speak to me best in a way I can adopt. Tolle is too obscure which I find frustrating, but maybe writing in a more ineffable manner is somehow clearer or more connecting to some people.

  3. What I do not quite understand it the fact that Tolle does give much create to the articulation of this teachings to past teachers such as Jesus, Lao Tzu, The Buddha as well as others and does not claim that he is bringing us a new teaching. In your post you can not recall multiple sources but Tolle is suppose to reference his book like a research paper? I agree that many or all of his teaching was or has been taught already but few have put together his teaching in recent years as he did in the Power of Now.

  4. I think you sound jealous Marie,

  5. He only talks about the truth in his own way. And he referes to other people that have spoken about the same truth. You can only call that stealing when you think he's a fraud and hasn't realized the truth and only wrote his books to make money.

  6. We only ever experience what we are thinking about what is happening in this moment. Why talking bad about someone like Eckhart Tolle who is most likely so successful because people are ready to hear it and not because he ever claimed he found something no one ever said before. Be happy in your mind with what you are thinking and the world looks like a better place instantly. Wish you luck!

  7. I have been a student of Buddhism for nearly four decades and find that the teachings coming through Tolle are really harmonious. The teachings about how we play ego games has been invaluable to me.
    There is nothing new about the mind or spirituality; why would there be? There are many teachers (with various levels of realization) that have their unique ways of clarifying what is already inside us. If the teachings resonate with our inner natures and what we have already uncovered, great!

  8. I read the power of now and a new earth
    Tolle always credited enlightened spiritual beings from the past and like a woven tapestry, masterfully blends them together as to forge a union and to show that enlightenment is reached by righteouness, its a narrow walk, the storylines different but markers the same.

  9. I, too, find Tolle derivative and frutratingly vague. Vague enough to make acolytes think they are being enlightened when they copy his physical mannerisms and frustrating in that, with much of his philosophy coming from Buddhism, it just creates chaos when people are not more than superficially versed in those teachings. For instance, the idea that the mind is a problem. This is what I often hear parroted back to me - that thinking causes problems. It does not, although this particular idea is often used as an excuse for following "feelings" and attacking rational thought. It is true that over-thinking and mindless mind chatter can cause problems, but the simplistic ideas in Tolle's work would lead one to believe that "being" requires disdaining thought altogether. It is vague enough that those who call themselve "spiritual but not religious" can feel good about whatever it is they're doing. It does not address some of the very real issues, like character and ethics, which I believe have far better proof of being universally beneficial than sitting on a park bench for two years and calling oneself enlightened.

  10. To answer all your doubts, Eckart reveals timeless truths which are not a product of the mind, but a product of awareness of the Higher Self, so no need to give credit when stating something that everyone already knows is true at a deeper level. Secondly, if one cannot see the wisdom in his words, it is due to impurities in one's own mind and not in his words, which are pure truth. Hope this helps everyone!!��

  11. Of course you will find this repetitive because this is essential for the Human Being, is not his discovery and he is telling nothing new, he is just trying to reach people in a different way. Some of us find difficult to read Plato, some of us find difficult to read Bruce Lee (which talk about this from the martial arts point of view in his amazing book Tao of Jet Kun Do), some of us don't even like to read at all so there are movies like "The Peaceful Warrior" or even "Star Wars" Have you ever pay attention to Yoda's quotes??? So George Lucas is also a thief? who stole from who? Lao Tse from Plato? or the other way around?. Thing is, Tolle is approaching to the people in a different way, according to our times, and guess what? there are a lot more coming. Actually you can do it, just find a new way but the core of it is, was and will be the same. And if in the process to help people you can do a way of life (earn money) is ok. No devil here...

  12. Tolle is like an Augustus Gloop who must have everything,. he will dive into your spiritual chocolate river and contaminate it,. because he has to be the guru,. the one who said it,. the one who gets paid,. the greedy disgusting capitalist who preaches his plagiarism. but hey,.if Tolle is your teacher,. good on you,. I think a lot of people on here are frustrated that he doesn't seem to give credit,. and despite his teachings or "observations,. he is a mega capitalist businessman.

  13. I am not saying Tolle is an enlightened being but i know for a fact that all enlightened beings teach the same thing in essence, therefore obsessing about plagiarism is a a non sense. The objective of this type of writing is to give an insight into awakening, into the essence of that state of consciousness. Mary I think you are completely missing the point.

  14. Hi Marie, Eckart Tolle forgives and surrenders with love and with no judgement. To calm the swirling mind and settle the ego. Simply be in the moment... Listen to the silence... Observe your thoughts as they pass by. No need to interpret or identify them. Be here right now with full awareness.

    No need to give anybody credit. No one here is better, stronger, or more intelligent. There's no competition, there's no race. We are all one with the universe. No knowledge is being stolen. I am happy that the knowledge is being shared with everyone!

  15. Hi Marie, Eckart Tolle forgives and surrenders with love and with no judgement. To calm the swirling mind and settle the ego. Simply be in the moment... Listen to the silence... Observe your thoughts as they pass by. No need to interpret or identify them. Be here right now with full awareness.

    No need to give anybody credit. No one here is better, stronger, or more intelligent. There's no competition, there's no race. We are all one with the universe. No knowledge is being stolen. I am happy that the knowledge is being shared with everyone!

  16. all of his quotes are trite.
    that's all im sayin'

  17. Right on Futurist Dada !!! Many of us are not able to take life head on because we are lazy and want some stupid stuff from bogus people like Tolle to sooth us out and they make hell of money by that....If he is so enlightened....please ask him to give all his money to poor and stop stealing further...and universe shall take care of him...he like many other has developed a whole industry to make he also get the dump audience who listen to his bullshit....get a life people, work, sweat, manage, and don't fall a prey to this .....

  18. My biggest issue with Tolle in "A New Earth" is he says the following

    "This book is about you. It will change your state of consciousness or it will be meaningless. It can only awaken those who are ready. Not everyone is ready yet, but many are..." then goes into a whole thing about how one by one we will join the collective consciousness.

    Many people identify with his teachings, and that is great. Spirituality and religion are an individual thing, and I can respect that some people find their answers in Tolle. However my issue is that this implies that if I do not find meaning in the book, it must just be that I am not ready. That basically does not allow anyone to initiate a debate about the teachings in the book, because if we see things that don't make sense to us, it's basically just our own fault for not being ready. In a book that talks about letting go of ego, this is an arrogant statement to make.

    Personally I do not identify with his teachings, though I do not disagree with the overall concept. I do not think it's because I'm not ready, I just don't think his teachings are for me. And it's okay that they're not for me. It doesn't mean it can't be someone's road to enlightenment. It's just not mine.

  19. Hello Mira,
    Before I started my spiritual journey, I would have agreed with your somewhat with your disagreement. However and to be brief, from my experience, the only way to relate to Eckhart Tolle's teachings and messages are by getting to stage where desires, wants and the mind cannot find a solution to some form of happiness that one experiences in life. The mind may not understand it but the soul or something deep within one may do and may also awaken to spiritual teachings and messages.

    On my journey, even though at the start of "my time of suffering" something in me resonated with the teachings and saw changes happen in life situations from using what is labelled as the power of now, I could not sustain it. I however found another way of practising the power of now by being able to practice it not in the now, even though everything actually is in the now.

    Anyway, trying to be brief, mindfulness becomes a very confusing word to use when it comes to awakening and meditation as it is somewhat the mind that causes the suffering.

    I will stop there and if you wish to have a discussion please contact me here:

    Thank you,


  20. Couldn't stand eckhart at first. Then years later I've become open to his teachings. I don't fall prey to Spiritual people as a rule and have built resistance to such things. However I'm convinced he is enlightened after listening to endless talks by him. He does not waiver. It's simple truths he wields with simple certainty. Trust the ego fights to stay alive.

  21. Couldn't stand eckhart at first. Then years later I've become open to his teachings. I don't fall prey to Spiritual people as a rule and have built resistance to such things. However I'm convinced he is enlightened after listening to endless talks by him. He does not waiver. It's simple truths he wields with simple certainty. Trust the ego fights to stay alive.

  22. These are all mind-talks and discussions. What Tolle presents is not philosophical. It is not supposed to be discussed with the mind like Marie did. It is supposed to be experienced. Because it is beyond the mind. Just practice a little meditation regularly everyday for 6 months. You will be able to relate to him. 6 more months, you will be able to feel his teachings. 6 more months, you will be able to understand him.

  23. The mind will never experience what Tolle talks about. However those who have not experienced what he talks about, can be guided but talk, discussion and perhaps images as those are the methods by which we humans mostly communicate. Hence and as Tolle says himself, signposts are created in the form of talk and discussion but they will never be the destination he is referring to, The destination can only be experienced, even though there is no destination as such as the spiritual journey is never complete without perhaps forgetting it all.

  24. Thanks for mirroring my thoughts about Tolle. I tend to be harsher in my take but tend not to spend my time concerning myself with where the chips might have landed. I've looked into the guy and his bags of money scooting from place to place, as well as the high-priced seating for Q-list celebrities. It's darker than generally known but such are these times of false profits working seeming miracle. Be well.

  25. LMFAO, seeing how many people have absolutely no understanding of biology but insist on saying shit like "the mind can not experience it!" is disheartening.

    What's worse are all the people here who read the post and still play the "Higher Level" card. No, you're not special.

    Here's some good advice for anyone who thinks this regurgitated tripe is interesting or even qualifies as philosophy. Take an intro to psy and phil class at a real school. Not only will it explain to you that all of this bullshit comes from the physical organ that is the brain, but will teach you that actual philosophy is meant to be debated, not "experienced".


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