468 Eckhart Tolle, is he for real?

Eckhart Tolle

I have a bit of a history with Ulrich Leonard Tölle (he who is a little younger than myself and who grew up in Lünen, Germany, about 100km from where I grew up) ... also known as  Eckhart Tolle:  I can’t stand the guy. I started reading his two books (and never finished one) when my daughter introduced me to him, and immediately disliked his language. When I began listening to some of his discourses on You Tube, my dislike grew. His talks - the way he talks - irritate me.

(Don't miss my update below, at the bottom of this blog.)




For the past few years I have been paying out on the man at every opportunity, the last time last week, when his name came up and I immediately offered my opinion, “He’s a fraud. Just check out what you can find on the internet about him.” Well, of course it depends on what you’re looking for! Oh, and one thing that annoys me no end is him adopting the name Eckhart. I assume (here I go again) he appropriated the name from  Meister Eckhart  (1260 - 1328), the medieval German mystic who now-a-days is revered for having - at a time when it was not at all fashionable - teachings contrary to orthodoxy. I quoted Meister Eckhart in my essay GOD 2

"When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly, that he should be reconstructed in the simple good that God is; and thirdly, that he should consider the great aristocracy which God has set up in the soul, such that by means of it man may wonderfully attain to God; and fourthly, of the purity of the divine nature."

At the time utterance like this were considered heresy ... they seemed to contradict the doctrine of God as the infallible being in heaven. The age Eckhart lived in was that of the  inquisition,  when authorities dutifully condemned him; he surely would have been burnt at the stake, hadn't he died prior.

So there was a lot that gave me reason to be biased (I even dislike the way E.T. dresses, for chrissake). And last week something happened that did not help at all ... I was reading a new book  10% Happier  and the writer confirmed every one of my prejudices. It was right in the middle of reading the chapter where he pointed out how he just couldn't see eye to eye with E.T. - especially due to the delivery of his teachings - that in a talk with friends his name came up and I had a go at him.

10% Happier:  How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story  by  Dan Harris  is the best book on meditation and Buddhism I have read to date. It is an autobiogra-phy by a man who found meditation via men like Eckhart Tolle (and Deepak Chopra). Says he on page 56 (in the chapter entitled "Genius or Lunatic"):

"At first the book struck me as irredeemable poppycock. I was put off by the strained stateliness of Tolle's writing, as well as its nearly indecipherable turgidity ... jargon like "conditioned mind structures', "the one indwelling consciousness". What's more, the guy was stunningly grandiose. He referred to his book as a "transformational" device", and promised that, as you read, a "shift takes place within you." I lay there rolling my eyes ..."

I guess when reading this I would have had a smug look on my face, because the above just reflected the way I felt about E.T.s writings; only, Harris read on, I didn't. But then something happened that threw me. When you come to the end of the book there is an epilogue:

"As I write this, in the fall of 2013, it's been five years since I first read Eckhart Tolle, four years since I started meditating (but he still was at odds with the concept of "enlightenment"; C.B.) To make sure I wasn't losing my mind, I called the most skeptical person I knew, Sam Harris. Lo and behold, he, too, said enlightenment was real ... to top it off he thought it was entirely possible that some people could become suddenly enlightened with no meditation at all. Specifically, he was referring to Tolle. "I don't have any reason to doubt his story", he said. He added that there's something more 'authentic' about people like Tolle, who have accounts of breakthroughs that come out of the blue without any formal training, "because they're not getting it from anywhere else." This was a bitter pill to swallow.

I couldn't believe my eyes ... for two reasons: 1) Sam Harris is a writer whom I respect, I've read a few of his books and blogged about him repeatedly ...  433,  426,  422,  418,  417,  412,  411  ... the first blog 411 is a foreword to my book  en.light.en.ment.  (I am also often quite critical of Harris.)

2) I am familiar with the concept of breakthroughs that come out of the blue ... I quote Krishnamurti (he who provides me with one of my favourite quotes of all time  ...  how strange to be surprised at anything in life) in my essay  MEDITATION 3,  he dismissed sustained and repeated mental training; he said a profound insight thoroughly changes the mind  -  not gradually, but instantly ... I talk about this process in my essay  SATORI.

Oh boy ... am I in trouble. Of course I will swallow this bitter pill (remember: How strange to be surprised at anything ...) Anyway, I've pulled E.T.s books out already. Can you hear my teeth gnashing? What's the morale of this blog? Don't ever judge a book by its covers (or a person by their looks and their demeanour) ... and don't you ever criticise someone before you read their books all the way through!  Doh. 


Update (E.T. II) and a debrief (in blog 474)

The above blog was written all through last week and published on Saturday. It's Monday now, and over the weekend I started reading The Power of NOW and A New Earth again ... I have to say - while I acknowledge that everything E.T. says (as far as I can tell) probably is not incorrect - I have the same problem with his writings I had before: They're bombastic and pretentious, as well as unoriginal, indeed derivative ... one book reviewer said, "his writings are awash in spiritual mumbo-jumbo". 

What he says has been said many times before, only better (he does admit, though, he is saying nothing new) ... however, obviously it is just my point of view that previous writings are better; and as a friend pointed out, my stance probably says more about me than about E.T. (ouch).

The widespread take on E T. is - as one commentator points out - E.T. offers a "contemporary synthesis of Eastern spiritual teachings" and another reviewer wrote, "Tolle's clear writing and the obvious depth of his experience and insight set it apart" (what, WHAT?!). 

Apparently the singer Annie Lennox said, "(Tolle) has some kind of special quality that I've never encountered before." And that is the crux of the matter. As my son Rad pointed out when we discussed him, "well, what's wrong with some people getting inspired by him?" Nothing, of course. 

'Nuff said.