After searching for inspirational and thought provoking content on youtube, I've encountered some lectures by Eckhard Tolle. I had vivid idea of what his philosophy was all about, namely connection with buddhism and new age. My colleague said once to me that he's the „enlightened” teacher, and since I valued the opinion of Sylwester quite much it led me to get to know this philosophy better.
First thought after listening of couple lectures of Tolle was that he seems to be quite introvertic and strangely peaceful. He looked like a man who wasn't fully engaged in whatever he's doing.
Since I'm a buddhist myself I was quite familiar with the terms he was using- one shoud point out that his philosophy is strongly influenced by Buddha's teaching. Terms like ego, mind, consciousness, presence are very common and repetitive in his lectures.
After listening to a few lectures I checked his biography on Wikipedia. I was really amazed when I found out how popular he actually is- at least in the United States, where both of his first two books were selled in more than 9 million copies. He was also involved in series of 10 webinar lectures hosted by Oprah Winfrey which were also viewed by a huge amount of people.
The phenomena of this „spiritual teacher” as he is called, becomes more apparent when one tries to understand what he is really saying and futhermore what's his psychological profile. First I would like to start by summarising his life experience.
Echard Tolle was born in the late 40's in Germany, but his family moved to UK, where he spent his childhood. He's often stating that his life until his „awakening” at age 29 was very painful. He recollects during his lectures that he had suicide thoughts at age of 6, he's also stating that he was weak and not popular child. He describes his thoughts at that time that reassemble someone who is doomed to fail. As I understand it he was probably bullied during his early lifetime, but he's reffering to his own problems as a purely mental problems, with no connection to his life whatsoever.
At the age of 29 he experienced „awakening” as he call it, simply acknowleding during one sleepless night that he is not his negative thoughts and negative image about himself. After that borderline experience he alegedly starts to experience world as a peaceful, blissful place. For the next couple of years his main ocupation was experiencing this changed world without any specific action, just simply sitting ona a bench in the park for example. He ocasionally worked to get some money, but for the most time he's just contemplating.
That's briefly the history of the Eckhard Tolle's childhood and way to his present activity.
Now I would like to summarise his way of thinking.His philosophy is strongly based on the notion of selflessness, which is a crucial term in buddhist terminology. He's very often using terms like mind, cosciousness,presence and awakening. The most important role in his view is recognising that the „mind” is something else that our feelings and emotions. This distinction between thoughts and mind itself is very much present in all his teachings. Also, the distinction between reality and one's experience is there too, Tolle is stating that experience of the world is purely subiective and depends on one's „consciousness”, for example every thing can be percieved bad or good depending on one's inner state.
Another imprtant trait of his philsophy is a strong distinction between „awakened” people, which are a small minority in the society, and „unconsious” people, which are the majority. He sometimes stated that beside himself some of his listeners, or students, are also „awakened”. This distinction is very important if one wants to understand his point of view. He often speak about the regular people in the humorous manner, even imprsonates them in funny examples.
His listeners are often people devoted to him, he has a strong influence on them. The interesting thing is that people during his lectures tend to laugh laudly whenever he says even slightly funny or when he's relating to himself as an enlightened person in a humorous way. It's quite obvious that he gained some kind of culf status among his listeners.
Those are two elements of his activity, that hopefully show some psychological background of Tolle.
Now I would like to share my analysis of this spiritual leader, and point out why I think his influence on so many people is dangerous.
Firstable I think that making distinction between „us” and „unconscious” majority is a sign of sectarianism. Most of the sects use this idea to make people feel they are participating in something valuable and they are part of the elite. The degree of understanding among Tolle's listeners, and question they ask suggest that they are not more intelligent than the average citizen.
Second thing that's very interesting is the clear distinction between the activity of „mind” and the „mind” itself. Tolle's often reffering to „mind” itself using terms like consciousness and „presence”. This objectification of the present moment and of the sole ability to think and feel seem to be a key when one wants to understand the influence of this philosopher. Those two ideas are considered by Tolle to be somehow mistical, and beyond reach of normal human. The recognition of those two things is the sign of „awakening”. But the awakening he's talking about can only happen it one recognises those things, that are basically unrecognisable for normal human, because they are „empty”. It's some kind of a closed circle, a perpetuum mobile if you prefer.
Tolle is constantly avoiding to connect the everyday life with the „awakened” state of mind. Those two realms of existence don't meet in his hypothesis. The subjectification of perception is the main idea in this philosophy. He refuses to tell people to change anything in their lives, pointing that they should be „in present moment” instead.
This philosophical contradiction leads me to thinking that the main reason behing making human developement so mystical and unreal serves one purpose- of creating Tolle self esteem and respect among the listeners. Creating mistical and magical image of human developement and representing this fundamental change in human existence by Tolle himself as a proof of this developement is something basically strange. In my opinion it leads to two results- first of them is cult like status of Tolle and second one is the idea common among his followers that outer conditions aren't that important, what's important is this „thoughless” inner state, the „consciousness” itself.
Tolle's way of living and behaving is something that is tipically considered as „special” or „enlightened”- he's very calm, not emotional, he's face is often serious, and even when he laughes it's without any strong positive emotions. He reasembles someone who is a „wise old man” but this image in my opinion is connected to the idea of a „father”. A father that is so wise that could hurt us with his view of ourselves, but he's talking about the way we should think and act to attain happiness, which gives as a sense of relief. He's on our side, even thought he belong to an other world, and world of authorities.
That image Tolle is trying to show us leads me to thinking that it's just a way of functioning that he has chosen subconsciously when he was 29. His life was „a mess”, he wasn't popular nor successful and he was probably bullied. The sense of relief that this new idea of being a teacher and someone special led him to believing that he found his place in the world which gave him a strong feeling of peace. After being someone that is inferior to others he became a leader.
That's in my opinion the most dangerous part of his activity, this ongoing thought that he's got the mission and that he's someone special. There were many examples of people who tought this way, and after gaining popularity it lead to catastrophic results. Tolle's religion is a religion of failure, of relativism and a religion of losing.