Eckhart Tolle is a German-born resident of Canada best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose. In 2011, he was listed by Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world. In 2008, a New York Times writer called Tolle “the most popular spiritual author in the United States.”
Tolle has said that he was depressed for much of his life until he underwent, at age 29, an “inner transformation.” He then spent several years wandering “in a state of deep bliss” before becoming a spiritual teacher. Later, he moved to North America where he began writing his first book, The Power of Now, which was published in 1997 and reached the New York Times Best Seller lists in 2000.
The Power of Now and A New Earth sold an estimated three million and five million copies respectively in North America by 2009. In 2008, approximately 35 million people participated in a series of 10 live webinars with Tolle and television talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Tolle is not identified with any particular religion, but he has been influenced by a wide range of spiritual works. He has lived in Vancouver, British Columbia since 1995.
One night in 1977, at the age of 29, after having suffered from long periods of depression, Tolle says he experienced an “inner transformation.” That night he awakened from his sleep, suffering from feelings of depression that were “almost unbearable,” but then experienced a life-changing epiphany. Recounting the experience, Tolle says,
I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.
Tolle recalls going out for a walk in London the next morning, and finding that “everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic.” The feeling continued, and he began to feel a strong underlying sense of peace in any situation. Tolle stopped studying for his doctorate, and for a period of about two years after this he spent much of his time sitting, “in a state of deep bliss,” on park benches in Russell Square, Central London, “watching the world go by.” He stayed with friends, in a Buddhist monastery, or otherwise slept rough on Hampstead Heath. His family thought him “irresponsible, even insane.” Tolle changed his first name from Ulrich to Eckhart; by some reports this was in homage to the German philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart. A 2012 interview article states that he saw the name Eckhart on one of a pile of books in a dream, and knew he had written the book; soon after in real life he ran into a psychic friend who called him Eckhart out of nowhere, so Tolle changed his name.
Tolle writes in the introduction to his second book, Stillness Speaks:
“A true spiritual teacher does not have anything to teach in the conventional sense of the word, does not have anything to give or add to you, such as new information, beliefs, or rules of conduct. The only function of such a teacher is to help you remove that which separates you from the truth … The words are no more than signposts.”
Tolle says that his book, The Power of Now, is “a restatement for our time of that one timeless spiritual teaching, the essence of all religions”. He writes that religions “have become so overlaid with extraneous matter that their spiritual substance has become almost completely obscured”, that they have become “to a large extent … divisive rather than unifying forces” and become “themselves part of the insanity.”
Tolle writes that “the most significant thing that can happen to a human being is the separation process of thinking and awareness” and that awareness is “the space in which thoughts exist.” Tolle says that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
According to Tolle’s official website, “at the core of Tolle’s teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution. An essential aspect of this awakening consists in transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite not only for personal happiness but also for the ending of violent conflict endemic on our planet.”
In his book A New Earth, Tolle describes a major aspect of the human dysfunction as “ego” or an “illusory sense of self” based on unconscious identification with one’s memories and thoughts, and another major aspect he calls “pain-body” or “an accumulation of old emotional pain.”
Tolle often talks about the relevance of figures in intellectual or popular culture. In A New Earth, he quotes Descartes, Sartre, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Albert Einstein. He has spoken of movies such as Groundhog Day, American Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, Gran Torino, Titanic, Avatar, Being There, and Forrest Gump, and musicians such as Mozart, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He arranged an album of music in 2008 entitled Music to Quiet the Mind including work composed by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and The Beatles, and music by contemporary artists such as Deva Premal, Jeff Johnson, and Steve Roach.
In 2008 The Independent noted that “Tolle’s theories are certainly seen by many as profoundly non-Christian, even though Tolle often quotes from the Bible,” but that “Tolle does have fans in academic, even Christian, circles.” It cited Andrew Ryder, a theologian at All Hallows College in Dublin, who wrote, “While he may not use the language of traditional Christian spirituality, Tolle is very much concerned that, as we make our way through the ordinary events of the day, we keep in touch with the deepest source of our being.”
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