Tolle’s spirituality is for the likes of middle-class housewives struggling with boredom, and his methods work when one’s unhappiness is over a stained carpet, light traffic, or a bad hair day. If and when you are creating your own unhappiness out of thin air, it will go away if you stop doing so. But for the majority of the people living on this Earth, unhappiness is generated from external sources. One need not think for very long to come up with all manner of examples that would make any sane person unhappy. Without going into grisly details, I’ll just throw out some key words: war, torture, rape, illness, genocide, concentration camp, refugee camp, natural disaster, sexual abuse, incest, child labor, sweatshops, imprisonment… Tolle adds insult to injury by insinuating that the soldier who has lost limbs on the battle field, and saw too much horror, is making himself unhappy, whereas Eckhart’s eternal bliss would not have been shaken by the same experience.
But Eckhart says the primary cause of unhappiness is “never the situation”. This means that unhappiness is always the exclusive result of our attitude, and not circumstances, except perhaps secondarily. He’s wrong. Let’s look at his quote in more context.
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. “I have 50 cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering.”
According to Eckhart it is the story you imagine yourself in that is the problem. It’s your interpretation of events. Rather than create a drama in which you are the poor victim, you need to look clearly at the “facts” of the situation and work to solve the problem. This is fine when it comes to a messy desk, but not when the “facts” are inherently upsetting. If the “fact” is that you have been captured by enemy troops, and they are going to torture you before killing you – this is happening to people in Syria today – you don’t really need to build a story over that to falsely put a damper on your glee. When there is the possibility of “horror” than mere “unhappiness” is surely possible.
For the graphic I chose a picture of a grieving baby elephant after his or her mother was shot. I don’t think we can blame the baby elephant’s unhappiness on the self-delusion of its ego or intellect. It is not making itself unhappy through self-pity in an elaborate and fantastic tragedy it has spun with itself as the beleaguered protagonist. Its sorrow is a natural expression, and a sign of intelligence and feeling.
If one is familiar with the documentary, The Tears of Sichuan, it’s easy to understand the sadness, unhappiness, and even anger of the Chinese parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Many children died because of the faulty construction of their school, which collapsed on them while other nearby buildings remained standing. The school was shoddily built because of corruption and incompetence. Columns were just stacked bricks, painted over, with little or no cement holding them together. And while the parents were still grieving and angry, the government also refused to listen to them or punish those responsible for their children’s deaths. Instead, the government sought to silence the people because they were making the government look bad.
One could put on a sweater, breath loudly through one’s nose, and self-congratulate oneself for being at peace with the universe, feeling above the self-inflicted suffering of the less spiritually evolved or aware people, but one would be at best ignorant, and at worst a fraud and hypocrite.
Eckhart said that “facing facts is always empowering”. I suggest he face the fact that terrible things happen to people regularly, and that their unhappiness in regard to them is not a fault of their self-delusion, but a natural and even healthy response to an awful situation. Rather than blaming people’s attitudes for their unhappiness or dissatisfaction, we should acknowledge that in many instances it’s the inevitable outcome of crime, social injustice, war, accidents, or unforeseeable circumstances.
When the girls working overtime in the sweatshop for peanuts are miserable, the corrupt boss can point to the quote on the wall by Eckhart Tolle, and remind them that their unhappiness is the result of their attitudes, and not being overworked.
Their attitudes don’t need to be changed, the situation does.
And if all of that still hasn’t convinced you, consider the following.
Guest post by J. Sri Bhagovwid.
86 replies on “Does Tolle’s spirituality blame the victim?”
sometimes I wonder why do they need to incorporate artificial intelligence & feelings in Robots….let them be the spiritual self they are 😉
I don’t know Tolle’s stuff but I can see both your point and his.
It seems to me that a lot of New Age thinking encourages passivity and acceptance of the status quo for reasons you detail above. The leader of a sub-cult of “A Course in Miracles” a relative of mine is caught up in is always telling his followers to not get het up about injustice and war as it’s all a problem with their attitude and failure to recognise the illusory nature of existence. Mind you, he’s prone to getting a bit het up himself when one of the speaking engagements organised by his followers fails to return him sufficient profit or when one of his fellow ACIM gurus accuses him of distorting the teachings (A Course in Miracles tends to be a viciously divided house).
But my personal experience of crippling grief is that after years of being paralysed by despair (generally made worse by people who told me I needed to ‘snap out of it’) my attitude towards it suddenly changed and the grief lifted. There was still sadness and loss about those who had died but it no longer had a stranglehold over me.
It seems to me that the sweatshop girls in your example above could just as easily take Tolle’s slogan as a reason to stop getting sad and get organised instead – in which case the boss had better have a getaway car handy.
Yes, exactly, about “the passivity and acceptance of the status quo”. I only chose grieving as one example, because I didn’t want to be so sensationalist as to post pictures of bombing victims with missing limbs, or emaciated people barely holding on to life in concentration camps. I might still, with his same quote over them, if my point isn’t getting across.
At some point, grieving is no longer necessary or healthy. But in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, to imply that the survivors needn’t be unhappy if they would just accept what “is” and not make themselves unhappy over it is inhuman.
In fact, “happiness” is required in the workplace these days, and everyone must appear to have a good attitude at all times regardless of the circumstances in which they work. New Age philosophy is partly to blame for this, because bosses have capitalized on it’s rhetoric to help exploit workers. If you convince yourself you are happy working for subpar wages, than there’s no reason for you or your coworkers to get a raise, ever. Meanwhile the boss is perfectly in his right to be unhappy with your “productivity” or your unhappiness.
Unhappiness need not be debilitating or an impediment to action or social action. People get in the street and protest not because they are cheerful, but because they are unhappy with an unfair situation and want to change it. They may even be angry. It’s better to circumvent any unnecessary or crippling emotion, but dissatisfaction can be a real motivator. One may feel better when taking action to fix a problem, but this would justify rather than negate the unhappiness that spurned the action. If the girls in the sweatshop were happy with whatever situation unfurled, they’d have no motivation to organize. Why try to change a situation, if you believe that a situation can “never” make you unhappy?
Better to acknowledge natural and justifiable unhappiness, and then take charge to change the situation.
It’s always just a question of thought.
ONLY THOUGHT CAN MAKE DEATH BAD.
If you think death is just an other neutral situation, in this case, there is nothing to be sad about someone being dead or dying. You get it or you’re too stupid ?
I GOT 24 TUMORS IN MY BODY. AND I’M HAPPY. JUST BECAUSE I DON’T CARE.
I’ll take that as a compliment, if you don’t mind terribly. Tell that to someone who just lost their son or daughter. In any case, I’m just finishing a drawing about death. Check back later tomorrow or the next day. It might interest you.
I’m still enjoying the fact that you called me “idiot”. Makes me chuckle days later.
Wow, your arrogance and lack of knowledge knows bounds here. Fear, grief, horror, anxiety, and all other associated “emotions” are INVOLUNTARY. You pride yourself on suppressing your emotions via using your thoughts. You use your will to suppress a chemical response which you are genetically and epigenetically hardwired with since you were conceived. Time for some education and empathy and most of all GROWING UP.
At first I thought this was a reply to me, but it’s a reply to another reply, and now it makes sense.
Yes, a LifeWise woman speaking. Eckhart Tolle IS right about it! I agree. Somebody overhere’s is blind… 😉
When an elephant grieves, does it do it with “thought”, and by “thought” do you mean a language? Why do whales beach themselves when another whale dies? Is it “thought”? Have you ever seen footage of a captive whale whose baby was taken away. It mourned. Do you blame this on thought? Perhaps grieving and mourning are natural processes. Rather than pretending death doesn’t hurt, because it only signifies within a matrix of thought, you might come to a different conclusion: sorrow is natural regardless of thought, and maybe grieving over the dead is only a problem in the realm of egoistic thought that you and the lady who called me an idiot are subsumed in. Life is not naturally indifferent. Right, you’ve understood some of the text of Tolle, who is himself a shallow disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj. With that little bit of familiarity you’ve pronounced yourself an expert. All hail William, the self-proclaimed enlightened master, who is really an egotistical prick.
I’d never heard of Tolle before your post so I just educated myself via the source of all knowledge – Wikipedia.
I actually empathise with the guy’s story quite a bit – especially
On the face of it it looks like he has failed to avoid that trap.
He also says :
I agree with the first and last sentence wholeheartedly but seriously doubt the possibility of the second.
If something like what seems to have happened to Tolle aged 29 happens to you it is pretty much impossible to believe that you have nothing to teach someone else. In fact anyone with normal human empathy will feel an overwhelming sense of duty to try to bring what he has learned to other people.
One problem is that it is very hard to do so without getting enmeshed in your own ego – it doesn’t just slink off somewhere to die it’s always trying to reassert itself.
The other problem is that the more your message is picked up and distributed the more it will be distorted and misinterpreted. It can’t be captured in words after all. Once it turns itself from a teaching into an industry it will take on a life of it’s own and inevitably be appropriated by those who are quite happy with the status quo thank you very much.
I would imagine that if I had my own experience aged 29 – before I had so much exposure to bogus gurus and twisted teachings – I may have tried to go down the same path as Tolle.
I find it ironic that Tolle endorses – among other things – A Course in Miracles. I have no idea how the incoherent message of the book originally appeared to ‘the scribe’, Helen Schucman, but note that she died in despair railing against ‘that book’. However I have little doubt that William Thetford was an amoral Svengali who hijacked the whole cult for his own purposes and perhaps those of his CIA employers. The structure under which it is taught and several of the rhetorical devices used are straight out of the ‘Personality Assessment System’ book of Thetford’s immediate MKULTRA superior, John Gittinger. Intriguingly, Thetford was made director of the still secret MKULTRA subproject “Personality Theory” at exactly the time Schucman’s ‘scribing’ was being extensively edited by him and promulgated to those who would form the core of the ACIM cult.
If you don’t know Tolle, you obviously haven’t seen “Super Soul Sunday” where he is a regular guest of Oprah Winfrey. Like Osho, he can spew the fine rhetoric, but is ultimately full of shit. Look here, he’s a big business: http://www.eckharttolle.com/
I wonder if you’re confounding equanimity with apathy.
The key skill taught by Vipassana is to identify your emotions as they arise and let them pass without imagining they are part of you or that you need to respond to them.
When I was depressed my emotional base state was pretty much apathy and I think it was getting angry with, of all things, some crap GM research boosted by worldwide crap science journalism that finally put me into the mental state whereby I could overcome the problem.
But wouldn’t it have been better if I had been able to let go of my own depression and apathy without the need to turn it into some other emotion?
Do you really need to be sad or angry at something to recognise that it needs to be addressed and to respond accordingly?
Wouldn’t it be better to be able to act from a position of cool dispassion?
I think Tolle is on the ball when he says “The past has no power over the present moment” – or at least it has no more power than we choose to give it. That includes a history of oppression or trauma.
I think you’re seeing a nugget of wisdom in Toll. Making choices in the throes of intense emotion is not always wise. Still, cool dispassion? You and others may find that appealing, but my emotions are too much a part of my identity. I’d prefer simply acting from a position of less extreme emotion. But that’s just me.
I do disagree about your point about past having power, but that may just be an extension of my reaction to cool dispassion. I think that my experience of the past shows a pattern of cause/effect that changes how I react to future causes. To choose to give the past no power, which I’m not good enough to do, feels like choosing to ignore past experience. Certainly, a traumatic past event will impact future choices more than it probably should. I guess my disagreement is more of a degree rather than pure opposition.
I’ve been thinking about your contributions to this discussion, such as, “Still, cool dispassion? You and others may find that appealing, but my emotions are too much a part of my identity. I’d prefer simply acting from a position of less extreme emotion.” Right. Are emotions necessarily a bad thing? That seems ridiculous. Elsewhere you brought up that emotions may be triggered independent of the mind. I also think that’s true. And that reminded me that we can feel the emotion, naturally, and still function rationally. If someone cuts us off on the freeway, it might make us angry, but we don’t need to go with it and start a demolition derby. We could rationally override it. People do this all the time who know absolutely nothing of Eastern philosophy. Rather than trying to eliminate the emotions, or even just unhappiness (which could be a healthy and natural response to certain immediate situations), it might make more sense to, as you suggest, waylay the extreme (negative) emotions but acknowledge and integrate natural and healthy emotions. That sounds good to me.
I don’t think I’m confusing apathy and equanimity. I understand what Tolle is saying perfectly well. It’s not anything new. But I think it only applies to unhappiness that is self-created, or self-perpetuated. I think most of us can easily recall some instances of getting worked up over nothing, or a misunderstanding. But Tolle is an upper middle-class guy who never held a job and is now a multi-millionaire. He’s not on the ground in Syria loosing friends and loved ones in battle. He’s not in Guantanamo. He hasn’t been held in solitary confinement. He hasn’t been tortured. He hasn’t lost close family to bombs. He hasn’t lost a child in a earthquake.
He boldly states that unhappiness is NEVER the result of a situation. How has his metal been tested? Did he calmly sponge up some spilled milk? Did he lose a limb in war?
Many of the soldiers who returned form the war in Iraq have killed themselves. They were unhappy. They had PSD. But according to Tolle, the situation wasn’t the fault, it was their attitude to it. They just needed to change their attitude and they wouldn’t be unhappy anymore.
Tolle, for all his posturing, is apparently not aware of the real unfairness of life, the tragedy, and the horror. He has lived in a bubble of white, middle-class privilege. Apparently the hard lives of the poor and people living in war zones are abstractions to him that he can simply whitewash with a coating of platitude.
Sometimes one’s attitude really is the problem, and in that instance one should work to change it. But unlike Tolle, I am willing to admit that there are chance or random events that can harm or destroy a person, including myself, and there are situations that would test anyone’s metal. It’s not just a matter of switching a lever to feel blissfully at peace in an armchair of arrogance.
It’s time for Tolle to leave the palace and to see how the real people live. After he admits he was brimming over with shit, I’ll be very interested in anything he subsequently has to say
As it happens I had pretty disabling PTSD for several years after being in a bad rollover when I was 19. I’d literally be paralysed with the shock of flashbacks when I unexpectedly smelled petrol. I managed to desensitise myself to the smell via repeated exposure over a few years but it was only when I came to terms with the fact that I could not have saved the driver that the trauma finally went away.
It was an attitude change.
Which brings a similar image to mind.
Do you think that monk who set fire to himself in Saigon during the Vietnam war died in a state of terror or existential suffering?
Do you think he was motivated by sadness or anger or just a determination to do something in the face of injustice?
It takes two things to produce sadness or anger. The external stimuli and the mind’s response to it.
It seems to me that psychopaths and extremely proficient meditators are not as prone to letting the response of their mind overwhelm them.
It certainly seems possible to me to be able to recognise injustice and unfairness and be motivated to try to do something about them without getting caught up in your emotions.
In the example you gave, you overcame your PTSD several years after a car accident because of a change of attitude. We’re not disagreeing here. At this point it seems to have been a matter of attitude. But in the first weeks after the accident you may have been unhappy reasons that had less to do with attitude than with pain and suffering.
Recently, I hade a really bad stomach flu or food-poisoning that just made me miserable. It included a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and a state of semi-delusional sleeplessness coupled with a dramatic slowing down of time. I was unhappy during this. My head ached, and my joints ached. It wasn’t my attitude. I was physically suffering because of excessive discomfort. As soon as the illness subsided, days later, which it did suddenly, like a tide retreating, I instantly felt happy. My unhappiness was completely the consequence of the illness.
Tolle offers an easy solution to the worlds problems. Just change your attitude to them and you will be happy. Global Warming got you down? Change your attitude. You’re family was blown apart in a bombing raid? Change your attitude. You have cancer? Change your attitude. But his answer is too easy and too glib. When you are fighting on the streets in Syria, and your best friend gets killed by a sniper before your eyes – just watched a documentary with a clip of precisely this – your unhappiness isn’t because you have a bad attitude. It’s because you live in a bad environment where really fucked up shit happens to good people, or just ordinary people.
Funny you should mention the self-immolation monk. I’ve already started an art piece about that incident. And I recently saw another documentary about people who have recently set themselves on fire in protest, including a few who survived. In their cases they were anything but happy. The monk, however, was no ordinary monk. He may, in fact, have set himself ablaze in complete calm. But I don’t know that the entire process of becoming so fed up with the Vietnamese president’s mistreatment of Buddhists didn’t involve unhappiness and emotion.
Did you give any thought to the grieving baby elephant beside it’s mother, who’d collapsed after being shot. There’s a lot of evidence that animals such as elephants grieve. Would you say that they have attitudes? And are their attitudes fictions created by their egos? Or is it emotion/feeling not connected to attitude?
Do people cry only because of an attitude or conviction?
I think there needs to be a more complex, nuanced, and realistic approach to unhappiness than Tolle’s simple assertion. We need to accept that really a lot of unhappiness is the inevitable consequence of cruel circumstances, pain, suffering, and dread – the pig on the way to slaughter, that knows it instinctively, isn’t just unhappy for purely intellectual reasons to do with a frustrated ego – and that the way out of that may involve a lot more practical work to change situations, and that those changes may be the result of natural emotional responses, than just a flipping off of the bad attitude switch.
I still pretty much disagree with what you’re saying – other than the fact that Tolle is probably another New Age fraud caught up in his own money making, regardless of what the nature of his original insight/experience may have been.
Although my attitude to myself and my suffering changed a lot just under year ago I am still definitely bipolar – almost certainly a physiologically based condition. I still go through ups and downs that manifest pretty clearly in my energy levels and creativity (or lack thereof). But what the downs no longer have is the power to drag me into them as sadness or despair.
My flatmate is someone who is very caught up in her own self image as a disabled person – one that is justified by her medical conditions. Her illnesses overcome her in a way that seems to dictate her mood. I, on the other hand, often find myself quite upbeat when I’m in the grips of the flu or one of my more exotic autoimmune responses because I find my bodily responses so interesting. My bout of malaria was also a pretty happy time despite the physical discomfort it caused. I must admit I find my hayfever pretty depressing though, perhaps because I’ve spent so much of my life subjected to it I find it very ordinary.
I think you may be making the error the Buddha warns against when trying to understand karma-vipaka and that’s the notion that conditioned objects or events rest on a single cause. They don’t. There are always many dependant causes and interfering with just one of them will substantially change the outcome.
Regarding the baby elephant, it would be just as easy to point at reptiles and their apparent complete indifference to the deaths of others of their species and suggest that grief and mourning is a function of the attitudes of mammals and birds rather than an event such as a death. Perhaps people can use their own self-awareness to overcome what may be evolutionary imperatives in other animals. I can’t imagine a chimp sitting cross-legged and impassive as it self-immolates.
Hi Cabrogal. By the way, it’s a pleasure to have this kind of feedback and debate from you; to have one’s ideas and conclusions tested, and also to hear the views and arguments of another.
You wrote: “I still pretty much disagree with what you’re saying.”
That’s the first thing I read this morning, and I welcomed it. I thought, “this should be good”. And I brewed a cup of tea to help me enjoy it.
You continued;: “other than the fact that Tolle is probably another New Age fraud caught up in his own money making, regardless of what the nature of his original insight/experience may have been.”
Ha, ha, ha. That was my main point. But I also question people’s conclusions about their insights and experiences, and their experiences themselves. Tolle had already read a good deal of Eastern philosophy when he granted himself the status of enlightenment following realizations that precisely matched that of the gurus he was reading. If may be that one’s experience will coincide with one’s beliefs. If you don’t discount psychedelic forays as mystical experiences, there’s quite a range of people’s profound experience which does not all fall into the same basket. Some see Christ, some Gaia, and someone like Terence McKenna saw entities such as self-dribbling, jewel-encrusted basketballs. We might like to find a way to wrap all of these into one set of ideas and conclusions, and tell ourselves we have the answer, but it may be that they don’t all fit in the same box. It may be that the answers the great sages gave were not entirely compatible with each other, and not complete. Tolle may have got the experience he was looking for, applied the set interpretation, and called himself a messiah. As a psychedelic experience, his “realization” might be a level 2 on a scale of 5. People have gone much further.
You wrote: “But what the downs no longer have is the power to drag me into them as sadness or despair.”
I’m with you on this. The part that is our own contribution to unhappiness can be unraveled. I read a lot of this stuff about 8-10 years ago. I have a small library of books on Eastern philosophy, and brain/consciousness theory. Much of it I agree with and try to apply to my daily living. To give a practical, in the world example, I believe I should never get angry at my students. I’ve lived by that the whole time I’ve been teaching, so it gets tested. In fact I rarely get angry with any of them, and go whole terms without there ever being any incident. When I do get upset – and that will usually take the form of dejection and just wanting to throw in the towel for the session – I regret it. I just think there are better ways of dealing with misbehavior, etc. I usually use humor and make jokes when students are disruptive or disrespectful.
So, yes, we can certainly make ourselves unhappy, or compound unhappiness. Stepping out of our beliefs and conclusions can help alleviate or eliminate unhappiness on top of other suffering. These are good tools. Also, unlike many artists, I don’t believe artists need to suffer or should be depressed or any of that romantic bullshit. We don’t need to be precious, wilting flowers. However, inevitably, we will stumble on tragedy, and we will suffer. Everyone dies.
You wrote: “My flatmate is someone who is very caught up in her own self image as a disabled person – one that is justified by her medical conditions. Her illnesses overcome her in a way that seems to dictate her mood. I, on the other hand, often find myself quite upbeat when I’m in the grips of the flu or one of my more exotic autoimmune responses because I find my bodily responses so interesting.”
Right, and we can all look to Steven Hawking to see how someone very rationally doesn’t let concepts of being disabled interfere with his ability to investigate and participate meaningfully in the world. You may enjoy some symptoms of some illnesses to a degree, in a subtle way. I can get that. I’ve enjoyed sneezing and some symptoms of a cold before. When I came down with my last flu, and I was walking home, I felt a little high and was kind of getting into it. But when it evolved into a fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, sleeplesness, and aching all over, it was just too unpleasant a wave to ride. One may enjoy some pains in a way, but we all know there are tortures that are excruciating and break people down. I don’t want to go down the dark road of enumerating them.
You wrote: “I think you may be making the error … that’s the notion that conditioned objects or events rest on a single cause. They don’t. There are always many dependant causes and interfering with just one of them will substantially change the outcome.”
Only one cause. I don’t even think that. I can extrapolate that you are suggesting I think that unhappiness, in a given case, is the result of one specific impetus. It could be, for example, if you are bitten by a rabid dog. Or it could be a multitude of issues, such as discontent and hopelessness because of a range of reasons from the political to the personal to the physical.
You wrote: “Regarding the baby elephant, it would be just as easy to point at reptiles and their apparent complete indifference to the deaths of others of their species and suggest that grief and mourning is a function of the attitudes of mammals and birds rather than an event such as a death.”
You are just saying that animals with very small brains don’t show signs of higher brain capacity. That’s obvious, isn’t it? Do we want to base our behavior on the role model of the centipede? You skated the much more important argument and issue. Stick with me here. If you are willing to agree that animals can be unhappy, which we know they can, especially captive animals such as elephants, than that is a serious threat to Tolle’s argument.
I think you will probably agree that we make ourselves unhappy via the vehicle of language-based thought. Tolle argued that people make themselves unhappy by projecting a story onto reality, such as, “I am ruined”. An animal doesn’t have this kind of language. Therefore it is NOT doing what Tolle says we homo sapiens are doing to make ourselves unhappy. The animals are genuinely unhappy because of circumstances, and so can the animal that is called “human”. This is the fact that Tolle is not letting in to his all-encompassing New Age verions of Advaita. And it’s a knock out punch. He has no answer to the real suffering in the world.
You concluded: “Perhaps people can use their own self-awareness to overcome what may be evolutionary imperatives in other animals. I can’t imagine a chimp sitting cross-legged and impassive as it self-immolates.”
I already mentioned that I’ve seen discussions with people who calmly sat down and lit themselves on fire, but who did it out of anger and frustration with politics. We also know that whales will beach themselves, seemingly calmly.
Tolle thinks he has all the answers, but the world is more complex and dangerous than that. Emotions may be a healthy and natural thing, irrespective of the intellect. We may be able to override them, but this may also be self-defeating unless it is necessary to combat severe and unpleasant circumstances.
Do you want to never laugh again?
I should clarify that my evaluation of Tolle is based on the sum total of my knowledge of him – i.e. the Wikipedia article and this post.
I have no idea how to scale the mystical experiences of others on a 1-5 scale but my guess is that Tolle’s experience was real and that he has gone astray not because it was ‘low-level’ or appropriated from philosophy books but because he bit off more than he could chew in trying to communicate it and then had the whole thing corrupted by the inevitable circus that sprang up around him. I doubt very much my ability to hold off my own ego would survive being hailed as ‘the most influential spiritual teacher in the world’ and I would probably also be vulnerable to rationalisations as to why I should be charging outrageous amounts to get the message out.
While there may be differing kinds of mystical experiences (you’re making the stuff about the jewel encrusted basketball up, right?) I honestly believe that the fundamental perception of non-duality/unification-with-the-whole is the same across traditions. What varies are the metaphors used to try to verbalise an essentially inexpressible experience. That Tolle resorts primarily to Advaita to explain his own is unsurprising to me – there are no traditions I know of that examine the experience more thoroughly nor attempt to describe it more comprehensively. The fact that you can find echoes of Tolle in Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi reflects badly on Tolle no more than the fact that you can find echoes of Nisargadatta Maharaj in Vivekananda and Sankara or they in the Upanishads.
To me what reflects badly on Tolle is that according to the Wikipedia entry he endorses A Course in Miracles. Anyone who can plough through the terrible prose enough to see what is being said in ACIM will recognise the author (or editor) had no direct experience of non-dualism at all and was simply appropriating a completely misunderstood version of it – along with tropes from several other religions. Perhaps if I read as much Tolle as you I would spot the same thing, but the quote from Tolle you are critiquing here is in no way inconsistent with my own understanding and experience.
Suffering is a given. Even the Buddha suffered, ultimately dying of what sounds like a pretty horrendous case of food poisoning. Unhappiness is a state of mind and like all states of mind is subject to control.
You wrote: “I have no idea how to scale the mystical experiences of others on a 1-5 scale but my guess is that Tolle’s experience was real and that he has gone astray not because it was ‘low-level’ or appropriated from philosophy books but because he bit off more than he could chew in trying to communicate it and then had the whole thing corrupted by the inevitable circus that sprang up around him.”
Let’s look at that. What are trip levels. Obviously there can’t be any singular, definitive scale, but here’s an attempt to rate them: http://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/faqs/psychedelic_experience_faq.shtml
Below are levels 3-5:
Very obvious visuals, everything looking curved and/or warped patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls, faces etc. Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grained or ‘mother of pearl’ surfaces. Closed eye hallucinations become 3 dimensional. There is some confusing of the senses (ie. seeing sounds as colours etc.) Time distortions and `moments of eternity`. Movement at times becomes extremely difficult (too much effort required)
Strong hallucinations, ie objects morphing into other objects. Destruction or multiple splitting of the ego. (Things start talking to you, or you find that you are feeling contradictory things simultaneously) Some loss of reality. Time becomes meaningless. Out of body experiences and esp type phenomena. Blending of the senses.
Total loss of visual connection with reality. The senses cease to function in the normal way. Total loss of ego. Merging with space, other objects or the universe. The loss of reality becomes so severe that it defies explanation. The earlier levels are relatively easy to explain in terms of measureable changes in perception and thought patterns. This level is different in that the actual universe within which things are normally perceived, ceases to exist! Satori enlightenment (and other such labels) (**).”
Level 5 includes the complete loss of visual connection with reality. He hasn’t described such an incident. Of course, that is describing psychedelic experience, but many, including Huston Smith – author of “The World’s Religions” – have said that the psychedelic and mystical experience are very similar, if not the same.
You wrote: “I doubt very much my ability to hold off my own ego would survive being hailed as ‘the most influential spiritual teacher in the world’ and I would probably also be vulnerable to rationalisations as to why I should be charging outrageous amounts to get the message out.”
If one didn’t want to be hailed as today’s messiah, one wouldn’t seek it. That he has sought or accepted such publicity, including being on a show with Oprah called “Super Soul Sunday” shows he wants superstardom: http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/super-soul-sunday-blog.html?filter_tag=Eckhart%20Tolle
You wrote: “While there may be differing kinds of mystical experiences (you’re making the stuff about the jewel encrusted basketball up, right?) I honestly believe that the fundamental perception of non-duality/unification-with-the-whole is the same across traditions.”
Non duality is linked, again, with Advaita: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism I’ve read several of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s books, including more than once. Tolle has acknowledged somewhere (I must have read it in print because I can’t find it online now) that he is thoroughly indebted to the teachings of Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi. So, you believe Advaita, Tolle regurgitates Advaita, and thus it seems to you that he’s hitting the target spot on. But I know he’s just gacking up stuff he’s previously injested. Sure, he might have had some non-dual experience, as one who studies non-duality and strives for such an experience might. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, literally and figuratively.
I’m quite familiar with the concept, but, as I said before, others have distinctly different experiences, such as entity contact. No, I’m not making up Terence McKenna’s machine elves. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_elf I’ve read a lot of “trip reports” and the non-dual variety are chiefly had by people who use the world “non-duality” to describe them, and are already Buddhists or studying Advaita or related traditions. Often people have the experience they believe in. Why discount other people’s experiences if they don’t fit the mold of what we believe are the tell-tale signs of a genuine experience. They may similarly think your experiences are fluff or mere dreams because they don’t fall inline with their own. As soon as anyone is sure they are correct, and have had the ultimate and only kind of realization, than there’s no room for discussion. All others must be wrong.
It’s a sign of a less gilded ego to allow that there may be something outside of its established purview.
You wrote: “What varies are the metaphors used to try to verbalise an essentially inexpressible experience. That Tolle resorts primarily to Advaita to explain his own is unsurprising to me – there are no traditions I know of that examine the experience more thoroughly nor attempt to describe it more comprehensively…”
Again, a tautology: no other philosophy attempts to explain non-duality better than the philosophy of non-duality.
You wrote: “Suffering is a given. Even the Buddha suffered, ultimately dying of what sounds like a pretty horrendous case of food poisoning. Unhappiness is a state of mind and like all states of mind is subject to control.”
If “unhappiness” is a state of mind than do you argue that animals have “states of mind”? You will have to say “yes” if you believe that animals have emotions. But then you will be in that sticky area you didn’t address, of how they deceive themselves without language. So, more likely, emotions are not conjured only in response to thought, but may arise spontaneously. And so what if you can control it? I can control my breath, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t operate without my mental intervention.
It may be that emotions are a perfectly natural, spontaneous, and healthy phenomenon. They are, after all, experienced by everyone. To be ruled by them is a weakness, but to deny their reality or function may be another one.
Interesting stuff from erowid. A lot of their material is.
My own experience of mystical experiences has included complete loss of visual connection with reality (or at least the inability to organise visual imagery into anything that makes sense) but I have not found a correlation between the degree of dissolution of the senses and the feeling of ‘satori’ or the relevance and persistence of insights gained. Nor, from memory, do I recall a qualitative difference between my LSD and psylocibin mushroom experiences, though acid is ‘cleaner’ in that it lasts longer and doesn’t upset my stomach.
Both of my most profound and life changing mystical experiences happened late last year and did not involve visual hallucinations at all. Or the use of psychedelics for that matter, unless you count bipolar mania as a kind of ‘trip’.
And the fact is I had been having non-dual mystical experiences for years before I heard of Advaita or non-dualism (or LSD). It was when I was exposed to the concept of non-dualism that I first realised people other than myself had such experiences. And it seems very clear to me that the unification with God or Allah alluded to by Christian mystics and sufis is exactly the same thing expressed through a slightly different set of metaphors, albeit ones I find it harder to intellectually engage with – probably because they have not been as thoroughly developed and elucidated.
What happened to me last year was incredibly special and very beneficial to me. It has cured me of a lot of really nasty shit that it seems a lot of other people suffer from. I would be less than human if I did not want to spread that experience to others.
But if I could and did spread it to a substantial number of other people I think it would be pretty inevitable that I would be hailed as some sort of guru and that is perhaps the one thing that could really threaten what it is that I have gained for myself. It looks to me that many others have gone down precisely that path.
What I got was not something I earned. It was grace, if you like. But it seems to me that the ability to hold onto something like that in the face of the ego’s attempts to reassert itself is a kind of spiritual mastery and I seriously doubt I have anything like the mastery required to do that in the face of widespread praise from strangers. Simply finding it again after ‘putting on my ego’ for long enough to interact socially is quite an achievement in my opinion. Maybe that’s why so many spiritual seekers become social renunciates.
Absolutely key to the whole thing is the realisation that you are not anything special. Neither especially gifted nor with a special experience of suffering. I am far from sure I could keep returning to that realisation while surrounded by spiritual groupies and sycophantic Rolls Royce salesmen.
Because it is equally true that I am not only absolutely special and unique – I am that which is. If my ego gets a toehold into that I’ll probably never find it again – though it is very likely I will set about deluding myself that I have somehow made it a part of myself and that my ego is also part of my identity with Tat Tvam Asi. It seems to me that a lot of people who’ve had similar experiences to mine have gone down precisely that path and I would be an idiot to assume it couldn’t happen to me.
In any case, I’m pretty sure it’s academic.
I doubt very much I have anything to offer anyone whose neurochemistry and life experience isn’t so close to my own they would probably have realised the same thing by themselves anyway.
Oh, and BTW. I don’t do much of my thinking in words but still think I’m perfectly capable of deceiving myself without them.
Language is so other people can deceive you. (Not true really. My female pet rabbit is very adept at deceiving the male in a manner that allows her to snatch choice tidbits of food from him. There is language there of course, but non-verbal. Just like all other mammals seem to display).
We’re pretty much going in circles at this point.
You are basically arguing that all transcendent experience must be of non-duality, and that all emotion and unhappiness must be a state of mind.
I’m arguing that there are countless reports of mystical and psychedelic experiences that don’t fit that mold, and that emotions or unhappiness may arise independent of egoistic thought, and may be healthy and natural.
As long as you have a foregone conclusion, there’s no point in me coming up with evidence to counter it.
As a result of our conversation, I’m more skeptical of Advaita and other philosophies of non-duality. I think it’s better to not have conclusions about matters when it involves discounting other people’s experience, or blaming them for their suffering. I say, lift the conclusion. There may be more to it than we think.
If you look you will find there is no shortage of people arguing non-duality on the internet. It’s kind of an easy stance to win arguments from because there’s only one answer, and they have it because they have realized. If you don’t agree it’s because you haven’t realized. But I’m thinking, there is that which exists outside of that purview, and it can’t be discounted. If one doesn’t know how to classify it or what to do with it, simply acknowledge that it exists. Leave the window open.
For example, I think it may be better to acknowledge that emotion may be as natural and healthy a phenomenon as breathing or relieving one’s bowels, and that while Eastern philosophy may be able to unravel the unhappiness that the ego inflicts on itself and the host body, it may not help for the person who is unhappy because they just stepped on a land mine.
OK, maybe I’m wrong.
But wouldn’t it be nice to take full responsibility for what’s going on inside your own head instead of looking to external reasons and events to justify your own thoughts and feelings?
You wrote: “But wouldn’t it be nice to take full responsibility for what’s going on inside your own head instead of looking to external reasons and events to justify your own thoughts and feelings?” Those would be the two extremes, total responsibility and no responsibility. . It might seem milquetoast to look for a compromise, but that seems more persuasive, but I’m guessing the reality is somewhere in between.
Now we are also getting into issues of “free will” and the questions of what, outside of one’s “head” or “mind” could control what’s in it. Is it the mind being responsible for itself, or is something else being responsible for the mind? Some have said that the ego is a wonderful tool, but a terrible master. So, there is something outside of the ego. Maharaj’s protégé, Ramesh Balsekar, didn’t believe in free will (I don’t believe in Ramesh Balsekar, either, and where his philosophy veers from that of Maharaj is also where it seems erroneous). One argument against free will is that if we are an inextricable part of an undivided whole, we can no more be responsible for our own actions that we can for the entirety. The logical extension of the argument is that the universe is responsible for our actions. I don’t really buy that, because we can feel that we have agency, but I do agree that we are inseparable and completely dependent on the rest of the universe, and hence the idea of being unique is an illusion.
Of course it would be nice to think that one would never be unhappy again if one became enlightened. Maybe that’s true of the Buddha or Christ. But most the people, like Eckhart Tolle, that assert they are enlightened are full of shit. Many of us have had experiences of non-duality, especially if we’ve imbibed powerful entheogens, and especially if we’ve done so in the context of seeking non-duality. Such an experience doesn’t make a Buddha. It eventually wears off, though the person may never be the same as before. But the ego will climb back in the driver’s seat, and be a bit of a dick. Still, the web is teaming with self-proclaimed enlightened souls, who nevertheless buckle under pressure, lose their tempers, have breakdowns, and otherwise behave just like normal, unrealized folk.
One of the reasons people like Tolle piss me off is because I’d like to believe enlightenment is real. Of course evolution of consciousness is a wonderful idea. However, each Osho or Tolle or Maharishi casts more doubt on it. When the living Buddha shows up in a Rolls (Osho) or a Jaguar (Tolle), and is charging a mint for their talks, we can be pretty sure they are just more frauds.
So, with a shortage of genuine enlightened people who can stand the litmus test – and YES, if one is completely selfless they will act differently, because most of us act out of selfish self-interest – one has to wonder if enlightenment truly exists. I still think it does, but if one is going to claim it they’d better be able to live up to it, which wouldn’t be a problem at all if they actually were enlightened.
But, now I’ve probably opened a whole other can of worms for discussion.
The most obvious question that arises is this: If you don’t know where to draw the border between free will and determinism where do you get off judging people?
I mean, it’s not very fair is it? To insist that your emotional reactions to certain events are entirely due to those events and beyond your control yet to insist Tolle’s attatchment to Jaguars and stale aphorisms is entirely his fault.
Unless of course your judgmentalism is also something beyond your control and is in fact in the hands of Machiavellian Master Tolle.
In my opinion every decision you make is an act of free will (which may be restricted by circumstances – you can’t decide to vote for someone who is not a candidate for instance). When you make it you are bringing a new first cause into an otherwise largely deterministic universe. The trick is to recognise that every thought and therefore every emotion and action arising from it is an act of free will and therefore in the purvey of your morality. If you don’t see the road less traveled you can’t decide to take it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
OTOH I also think that when you are perfectly in synch with your own relationship with the universe you will not ‘decide’ anything but rather act without volition. Just go with the flow. So to act as a fully enlightened being is to abandon your free will, because it’s really an expression of the ego. Morality is just another wank.
You wrote: “If you don’t know where to draw the border between free will and determinism where do you get off judging people? I mean, it’s not very fair is it? To insist that your emotional reactions to certain events are entirely due to those events and beyond your control yet to insist Tolle’s attatchment to Jaguars and stale aphorisms is entirely his fault.”
I didn’t say that my emotional reactions are “entirely” or even mostly due to external events. I believe they can be caused by external events, or by myself, and in any combination. In Tolle’s case we are talking about an intellectual argument he makes, which blames people for their own unhappiness regardless of circumstances. I say he is being judgmental to the point of blaming the victims. If someone is unhappy because their child was crushed in an earthquake, it is their fault and they are inferior to Tolle because he wouldn’t compound “what is” with a story or fiction that caused unhappiness. So, in effect, I am not judging him so much as kicking the pedestal he’s propped himself up on, and from which he smugly judges others, out from under him.
You wrote, “In my opinion every decision you make is an act of free will.” Could be. That’s the way we experience it, so I would tend to go along with that view. However, the language you think with, and the structure and patterns of thought are not your own. You inherited, learned and were taught those. You are a product of billions of years of evolution, and thousands of years of civilization. So, how autonomous are we then? Where does our agency reside, and how does it operate? Can one really take credit for ones own thoughts or actions without separating oneself from the rest of the universe and history? If you say, “I have free will” where does “I” end and everything else start?
If an ant has consciousness (defined as awareness of awareness), and it believed it had “free will”, would that look a little ridiculous to us? The ant might decide to run this way or that way, but the whole time following pheromone trails and acting completely within the parameters of the ant colony. From our perspective the ant with free would be indistinguishable from any of the other ants. So, we too might have a sense of free will, but seen from some greater perspective we might be acting well within the limited and predictable range of homo sapiens within a given civilization. But, yeah, from my perspective, as I experience daily life, I am acting with complete agency.
You wrote: “OTOH I also think that when you are perfectly in synch with your own relationship with the universe you will not ‘decide’ anything but rather act without volition. Just go with the flow.”
So they say. I tend to like this idea as well. However, I think it’s extremely easy for people to convince themselves they are acting in accordance with the universe, or that God is speaking through them, when in reality, they may be doing little more than not filtering their thoughts as they spring up, or just deluding themselves.
You wrote: “So to act as a fully enlightened being is to abandon your free will…” I get what you’re saying here, and it makes sense abstractly, but when it comes to living in the real world one has to use one’s intellect to make rational decisions. Not surprisingly, a lot of Eastern philosophy makes the most sense for gurus not doing much of anything. Once you have a job, it gets a bit harder to think that you have surrendered your will to God, and God is writing memos and doing paperwork through you in the cubicle. In practical daily life we have to engage and use our intellects, which, unfortunately do not have the capacity of that of God or the universe. As an artist I’d have to ask why the best art isn’t being made incontestably by those who the universe speaks through without intervention?
So, it’s nice to think we can get rid of our egos and intellects and let the universe operate through us directly and without mediation. But, egos and intellects are as essential to our ability to function as are hearts and livers. I would go so far as to say, though, that one could believe that one is the ego, or one could step back from it and see it as a sort of operation nexus of the mind, which in turn controls the body. In other words, one can have an ego without being the ego.
Finally you wrote: “morality is just another wank.” You’re starting to make me wonder if corporate America isn’t responsible for the rise of Tolle and New Age spiritual beliefs in the West, because such attitudes foster inaction and acquiescence. I would counter that without being ensconced in the egoic nexus, one could nevertheless operate it, and use reason to come to very rational and productive decisions that are moral. I say exploiting workers to the degree that we seriously compromise their chances of success, and doing so out of pure, optional selfishness is immoral. Call it wanking if you want, but doing so will probably leave it’s own wank stain. To say that we can’t establish what is moral, at least in broad outlines, using reason, is a bit like saying we can’t build airplanes.
Does it ‘wear off’ or do you just get re-entangled in your ego?
Maybe enlightenment is actually pretty mundane and there really are heaps of people on the internet who’ve achieved it.
Buddhahood is perhaps something far more special that consists of all of the practices, disciplines and outlooks that enable you to hang on to the realisation of no-self even after the ‘trip’ has worn off.
And maybe there is actually no way to do it while remaining engaged in the society we have. Maybe to act within society is to act through your ego. Maybe to have a family or career is to surrender the moment to the past and future. Maybe you have to live as a renunciate to live as a buddha. Maybe the next time you buy some mescaline you should pick up a cheap begging bowl and robe too.
A sad part about what Toll preaches is that the two sentences starting with “Be aware” are at the core of a truly useful, scientifically proven method known as mindfulness which, for example, has been used successfully to treat war veteran’s PTSD. As mindfulness, though, it teaches awareness to provide a clarity less clouded by emotional intensity. It does NOT aim to replace the sad story with happy-fluffy-bunny thoughts. Emotion and fact are very much linked, but not perfectly linked. For example, I’m very much upset about a disruption in my own life, a fact, but I’m also just generically upset without a specific reason, emotion separate from fact. Furthermore, there are upsetting things that have happened that don’t upset me.
Still, the magical think-happy-thoughts crap that Toll teaches offends me.
I read two of his books, so I gave him a fair shake. He basically regurgitates the Advaita Hindu philosophy of Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi, who I discovered BEFORE Tolle, and who Tolle has acknowledge getting his ideas from. Everything I read from Tolle I already understood from reading directly from the source beforehand. In fact, I can espouse Advaita about as well as Eckhart if I took the time and effort to. He just made Advaita accessible to a contemporary audience.
But there’s a big difference between Maharaj, Maharshi, and Tolle. Maharaj gave free talks in his home, which was unassuming at best. He didn’t have any money to speak of. Tolle is a multi-millionaire who has $1,000 weekend retreats, and two-hour lecturers for $160. Ramana Maharshi didn’t own a vehicle, but Tolle drives a Jaguar.
Tolle studied philosophy and literature in college, and that’s all your really need to go on to study any branch of philosophy or religion, and then share those ideas with others, including as your own if so inclined. So, I don’t look at what the self-proclaimed “enlightened” say without also looking at what they do. And I have a problem with all of Eckhart’s marketing and his high prices that alienate the majority of living people. As far as I know he’s never worked before writing, ‘The Power of Now’, and the only troubles he’s seen were episodes of upper middle-class depression.
As someone who proclaims himself “enlightened” I expect him to set an example. He’s already a mutli-millionaire, but he can’t afford to give free talks or make his videos freely available. You need to buy a monthly subscription.
Tolle is like the martial artist who can defeat people by using his “chi”, which means without even touching them, but who has never been tested. Once he gets into the ring he is easily defeated seconds after the starting bell rings.
He can regurgitate the teachings of some of the greatest Hindu gurus of the 20th century, but he can’t walk the walk.
From that chi martial artist comment, I’m guessing you’ve seen the famous video of a mixed-martial artists taking down a chi-only guy full of self-delusion.
In any event, the money motive is very suspicious particularly when, as you put it, there’s no understanding of “enough money”.
Yes, I’ve seen that video. It’s a unforgettable. It shows just how deluded we can be. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEDaCIDvj6I
Right, the money is a big issue for me. An enlightened person doesn’t need money except for basic necessities. If they DO need money, what hope do they offer the poor?
I’ve downloaded three of Tolle’s books (free from BOOKOS).
Scanning ‘Stillness Speaks’ I’m fairly confident it’s just an extended New Age desk calendar. A collection of cheap aphorisms that anyone with a bit of esoterical scholarship and rhetorical skill could have thrown together in a matter of weeks.
I’ve only just started ‘The Power of Now’ and the Forward by Russell E. DiCarlo is as bad as bogus New Age claptrap gets, complete with the blatant misrepresentations of science – especially quantum mechanics – that supposedly ‘prove’ all the nonsense he’s trying to sell. (New Agers love to denigrate the authority of science in one breath then call on it with the next).
But the ‘Origins of this Book’ chapter strongly confirms to me what I thought about Tolle at first glance.
I reckon he did have a sincere experience of enlightenment and if his account is to be believed he wandered around in that state homeless, jobless, no relationships, no social identity, sleeping on park benches and utterly blissful for five months. Perhaps if it had happened to him in India people would have offered him alms and he would still be in samadhi and enlightened to this day.
But it didn’t. He was forced to re-engage with samsara just to get enough to eat. He felt the state diminish but writes it off as “perhaps it just seemed to because it became my natural state”.
Finally, after reading the spiritual texts he came to see himself as having achieved enlightenment – even though he had probably lost it by then – and claims that others kept telling him they wanted ‘what he had’ (if he’d been enlightened he would immediately have seen how ridiculous such a request was IMHO).
The final sentences of the chapter are delivered with an air of triumphalism, but to me they’re completely tragic.
“Scanning ‘Stillness Speaks’ I’m fairly confident it’s just an extended New Age desk calendar. A collection of cheap aphorisms that anyone with a bit of esoterical scholarship and rhetorical skill could have thrown together in a matter of weeks.” = Very funny.
About Tolle’s 5 months of living on park benches. Somewhere I read that that is a load of bullocks and someone was supporting him. He slept on friend’s sofas (or maybe beds), and eventually took a job working in office admin when his money ran out. So, apparently he had money to eat until it ran out.
Other than the misrepresentation I’m not sure it matters whether he was park squatting or couch surfing. The question is whether he was forced to engage with society through social masks and the sense of being a persistent self.
I think I’m managing to hang on to much of what I gained nearly a year ago by virtue of the fact I have no job and no social life to speak of. I have several hours every day to just spend quietly by myself, reconnecting/redissolving and blissing out.
If I had to spend hours every day in meetings and fending off the various passive aggressive attacks of managers and co-workers (as well as mounting my own) as I did when I was an IT contractor I’m pretty sure it would all evaporate in no time.
If I had to do book launches, public speaking engagements and sit on a couch swapping banalities with Oprah in front of an audience of millions I’m pretty sure I would be so fucked up so quickly I’d probably be snorting coke off the bonnet of my own Lamborghini in no time (I don’t like Jaguars).
Funny comment. I like classic Aston Martins. Anyway, you bring up an interesting point. What is the point of being enlightened if it renders one unable to function in society? And can it be an opportunity only for those that don’t have to work?
My job would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to make lesson plans, and if God or the universe just taught the students for me. But I doubt God teaches English.He seems better at blissing out in the afternoon sun, under a tree, with a light breeze.
Don’t get so caught up in writing that you forget to feed the skinks! Oh shit, I forgot to feed my fish.
The corollary question being “what’s the point of emotions and an ego if they just make you feel bad?”.
IMHO they’re evolutionary adaptations precisely so you can function in society. They’re about survival, not fulfillment.
Religiously enlightened folk don’t tend to hand down their genes even if they do live in a community that supports the contemplative life.
The only point of enlightenment for most of us, IMHO, is as a circuit breaker when things get really bad and as a potential refuge to stop them getting bad again – if you can maintain the refuge you found with your enlightenment.
That’s where mindfulness training and the eightfold path stuff comes in. Not in attaining satori – it just comes when it wants to. But in being able to sustain it in the face of a world that keeps trying to interact with you through an ego.
I’m struck by the way Tolle’s personal story is that he attained enlightenment without any prior spiritual learning but simply through utterly desperate despair, but then he goes on to teach people that the way to enlightenment is through spiritual learning – especially his.
I don’t know if you read my most recent post but in it I make the point that I don’t know why I realised enlightenment any more than 100 year olds know why they lived to such an old age. That makes it pretty fucking hard to teach. (Step 1. Be born with exactly the same genes as me. Step 2. Live exactly the same life I did. Step 3. Wait just under 51 years and … viola!)
BTW, how’s this for a typical piece of meaningless New Age gobbledegook from Tolle?
(Batteries not included?)
You mentioned something that reminded me of one of my problems with Buddhism. The emotions are not always negative and one is not always suffering. In fact, a lot of us spend most our time being pretty cheerful, enjoying the pleasures of life, laughing, having relationships… It seems if there aren’t extenuating circumstances, and if one gets a fair chance at life, it can be quite pleasurable.
I need some tea to raise the vibrational frequency of my energy field that gives life to my physical body.
I didn’t read you last post yet.
Don’t forget that impermanence (anicca) is one of the central tenets of Buddhism.
Pleasure is just setting you up for pain when you inevitably lose the thing that gave you pleasure.
Did you ever see my post Swami Smack on happiness?
I’ll check it out, but, after pain comes pleasure again. One might say that in the absence of pleasure there is pain and suffering, but I think it’s more accurate to say that in the absence of pain and suffering there is pleasure. One could also say that pain is setting us up for pleasure.
Yep, I reckon Tolle is a fraud alright.
Barely sixty pages in and I’ve already stumbled over any number of clangers where he basically encourages readers into the notion that transcendence will enable them to incorporate the ineffable into themselves and become somehow more than mundanely human.
He talks the talk out of one side of his mouth about losing your ego, etc, then comes out with lines like:
That seems to be the formula for a successful New Age book but it sure don’t tally either with my experience or with my readings of eastern mystics. Tallies pretty well with A Course in Miracles though.
I’m still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on his own experience, which happened many decades before he started writing his books.
And I still think your own mental states are under your own control and not dictated by outside events – though it can take a lot of training or especially good (or sometimes bad) fortune to achieve that for events that induce intense suffering.
To me, an illustration of the relativity of it is the fact that if one of my rabbits were to die I’d be more affected than by the thousands who have already died in Syria. It’s obviously not the event itself that matters but how you perceive and process it.
You wrote: “To me, an illustration of the relativity of it is the fact that if one of my rabbits were to die I’d be more affected than by the thousands who have already died in Syria. It’s obviously not the event itself that matters but how you perceive and process it.”
One could conclude the opposite from your example. The rabbit is an immediate event in your life, whereas the people in Syria you’d have to make a leap of the imagination in order to be affected by. So here you are more affected by an external event than by a mental one.
You mean like the ones Tony Curtis and Roger Moore used to hoon around in in The Persuaders?
When you and JSB have your worldwide chain of McAshrams up and running can I borrow one of your 200 or so Aston Martins when you’re not using it?
Yeah, they will be the 60’s DB4 variety. Mostly they’re for JSB. I probably just get to take pictures.
Just looked up which one they had. That’s a nice car, but the first one I ever saw in person was the ’63 model. It was in a car repair shop. I’d never seen it before, and I thought it was awesome. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SC06_Aston_Martin_DB4.jpg
Yeah, that’s pretty but kinda similar looking to classic MGs.
I think the later AMs had a styling all their own.
I particularly like the RAC badge touch. Wonder if it’s original.
I’ve got a feeling the Royal Automobile Club doesn’t attend roadside breakdowns in Connecticut.
Yeah, the simple aesthetic of the badge lends it something.
Still researching Tolle and I just had to share this corker with you (I think I’m gonna have to write a full post on this stuff).
In The Power of Now, Tolle writes:
This struck me as a rather odd survey – not least due to the fact that Einstein was not a mathematician – so I thought I’d do a bit of Googling to try to find if anything remotely like such a survey had been published anywhere else on the internet.
Turns out it has, but only in one place.
The whole sentence is an unattributed word for word lift from Deepak Chopra’s book The Path to Love.
Tolle’s not only a fraud, but a fraud who plagiarises other frauds.
Good research, and thanks for sharing. The quote also sounds like a load of bullocks. It’s probably one of those things I scowled at when I read the book, and then passed over to get to the better bits. However, the quote is also misleading. It’s basically saying that “thinking” was only a small part of the inspirational spark. However, then must have come the inevitable avalanche of thinking. Saying thinking was only a small part of the work of the most prominent mathematicians is a little like saying writing was only a small part of the conceptual phase of the best novelist’s books, but most of it they committed to paper through a kind of magic that only they know who have joined a secret society of writers who sold their souls in exchange for such gifts.
So that’s how they do it.
I’m off to the crossroads then.
Actually I think those who would claim that thinking does not play a part in their creativity must be pretty unaware of their own thought processes, which is pretty funny when it comes from someone who promotes mindfulness.
That said I’ve got no fucking clue where most of my own poems come from except inasmuch as they usually deal with themes I have been doing a lot of thinking on. If computer programs came to me the same way I might have to consider the possibility I was channeling the spirit of Ada Lovelace.
This may not be anything more than how dreams arise. If you stop and think about it the subconscious is much more powerful than the conscious mind. It can create whole worlds and fool the conscious mind into believing them.
So, as thoughts or ideas arise in the mind, it need not be from the cosmos, but just from the vast remainder of the iceberg under water.
What is the counterargument? That thoughts are all generated from other thoughts. They just keep arising whether we like it or not. Kind of like shit. But we don’t think our shit came from God.
You’ll eat those words after I’ve converted you to Mahafahrtism.
I used to be a fanatical devotee of Tolle and all of his ilk. These days I identify as atheist. Thank you for writing this article. I think it’s a well written and well deserving scathing review of the damage and blame that can come of the idea that one’s thoughts are responsible for everything that we are. At best, it’s trite and at worst it leads us to dismiss the power of action, recognition, and the entire human experience (which is not happiness as a default state.) Thank you for writing this article.
Thanks. Glad you appreciated that piece.
You do realize that starving children have nothing to do with Tolle’s work? Tolle and all the other spiritual teachers have stated it a million times … what they say applies to people who’s existential needs have been met … who are not struggling with survival. Also the unhappiness he refers to is the unhappiness of thinking not of having too little to eat … that’s the fault of our society and capitalism and our collective dysfunctional mindset.
Maybe actually read his books instead of writing random stuff?
You are at least partial correct, and I half agree with you.
Incidentally, I have read two of his books. One was “The Power Of Now”, and the other had the word “stillness” in it (Stillness Speaks?). This is why I know that his work is just Advaita, re-packaged for a New Age audience, and can be gotten straight from the source in the works of Nisargadatta Maharaj, such as “I AM THAT”. If you haven’t read “I AM THAT”, you may want to take a look at it for an undiluted version of Tolle.
Your use of “existential’ appears to be incorrect. I gather you just mean basic survival needs, and aren’t talking about Existentialism, or an existential crisis, such as arises when someone loses their belief in god, that everything happens for a reason, and so on.
So, I gather you are saying that Tolle and his ilk are just trying to help the well to do with their personal hang-ups. And for that, he’s fine. If it’s just about a bored housewife not making herself upset over something inconsequential, such as the hired help leaving a footprint on the Persian rug, Tolle is the ticket.
However, real spirituality needs to apply to real people facing real problems, or it is useless. If it is only good for people who don’t have any real problems, and are pampered in the bosom of the privileged class, well, then it is like medicine for people who aren’t sick.
Stop and think about it a moment. Why did the Buddha seek enlightenment? Because when he left his father’s palace grounds, and saw the real world in which people suffer miserably, he sought to find a way out of suffering. He wasn’t looking for something to help the people IN the palace grounds, who had everything taken care of for them.
So, if Tolle’s spirituality, or Deep-pockets Chopra, or Oprah, or whoever’s, does not apply to real life, it is worthless twaddle.
Beyond that, it has to be able to stand up to reason. If Tolle said, “Assuming you don’t have any real problems, and all your needs are met, then any problem you have is merely a question of your attitude,” than nobody would disagree with him, and he also wouldn’t be saying anything.
His position is that no matter what the situation is, including if you are a prisoner of war being tortured, it’s still your fault if you are unhappy, because you are not accepting life as it unfolds without fear or desire. And here he is wrong, as are other pseudo Eastern philosophers of his ilk. So, there needs to be a more comprehensive and powerful philosophy that can’t only cure the unhappiness of those who have everything and just need to quit wining and get over themselves.
Have a good day.
Thank you for this. Victims of abuse do not need ‘spiritual’ people looking down on them for not having a ‘positive’ attitude. That is not compassion, it is not helpful, it is not humane — it is horrible and cruel.
Yes. We agree.
Eric, I say this with as much compassion as I can over an internet forum: you have completely missed the point of not only Tolle’s teachings but probably every spiritual teaching you have come across.
Spiritual teachings are not ultimately “useful” – this is part of what you fail to grasp. Or rather, they are useful until you realize that they are not. Spirituality is useful when you first step into the bookstore looking for an external solution to your problems. And some of those books will appeal to that egoic need. But Tolle doesn’t. Osho doesn’t. When you read their teachings with a willingness to understand (ie., an “open mind”) you may (or may not) come to realize that their teachings are not something you need to “follow”. Over and over and over they will tell you – do not become attached to words, concepts or ideas. Look beyond that. Don’t make spirituality into a theory that can be applied or put to some “use”. You have fallen into the trap of making their words into spirituality itself. You remain in that trap. Instead, allow the words to simply prompt you (as pointers) to stop looking outside yourself for a solution to your (or the world’s) so-called problems.
On another point, Tolle actually makes a case against “positive thinking” (I believe it is in one of his lectures) – why? because it requires a kind of rationalization that is easily frustrated by the world of forms. With positive thinking, you remain attached to (positive) thoughts and are still dependent on them. Tolle prompts the listener towards awareness of thought – any form of thought, positive or negative. Awareness is NOT equivalent to positive thinking. Moreover, it is disingenuous for you to take Tolle’s quote (waaaay out of context, I mean not even in the same stratosphere) and paste it onto these images of suffering people.
Eric, you want to argue with spiritual teachings at the level of thought and logic – congratulations! You will always “win” this argument because at that level, spirituality must by necessity fall into paradox. It is NOT philosophy, theology or social theory. But in following this track you also miss the entire point of spirituality.
If you really have an interest in spirituality, you need to be willing to listen to the message (not just hear it). Part of the message will be: don’t get too attached to the message in its verbal or written form! Tolle isn’t developing sociological theories with his teachings (i.e., the “real” roots of people’s suffering in the 21st century). There is no shortage of that kind of theory if you are into that but you really do need to go elsewhere for it.
Another point – there is absolutely zero accuracy in suggesting that Tolle “blames” the victim of suffering (i.e., starvation) for being unhappy. Over and over he would insist that even in observing your own thoughts and emotions, you are observing with any judgment. You just watch them alertly as they enter your consciousness and as they depart.
Suffering is a part of any life – sometimes extreme suffering. But Tolle is not your man if you insist on wanting to hear a theory or philosophy about it. That being said, he has shared anecdotes about people in cases where death and pain are imminent (cancer patients, concentration camp victims). Even in these horrible situations, presence and peace can arise, according to the people who are in these situations themselves. But if presence does not arise, do you really think Tolle is there waiting to blame that person for not being at peace?
And one last point: Suffering and pain are not the same. In a given moment you may get into a car accident that was not your fault. It may hurt – but the actual physical pain is not a “thought”. In these “shock” moments (the pain) you don’t have any time to think anyway! The thoughts that come after the accident (alongside the continuing pain) are the “suffering” that you hear so much about in spiritual teachings. “How could this happen to me? I was supposed to run a marathon next week! That other driver is an idiot!” That, we may (again, don’t get too attached to the words) call “unnecessary suffering”. Not because it “should not be there” – this would be judging the thoughts. Rather, because it is simply not necessary. You could be in the identical situation and NOT be completely bound up (fully identified) with those thoughts. Even if they were still there flowing around your mind, you could simply be observing them, not attached to them and not experiencing them as “suffering”. But in order to do that you typically need one of two things: 1) Grace (pfft) 2) Someone/something to prompt you (or remind you) towards awareness.
I don’t know you so I don’t know if you have a genuine interest in spirituality or if you have personal reasons for criticizing this kind of teaching. However, if you do have such an interest, re-read Tolle, Osho and other teachers like Anthony DeMello but do so with a mind that is willing to listen. But if what you want is philosophy or social theory, then close those books and run to your local university’s library.
Thanks for your comment.
If I want to read spirituality, I’ll go back to reading Nisargadatta Maharaj (I’ve read most of his published talks), who Tolle has previously admitted to being massively indebted to for his own teachings. In fact, the best things Tolle says sound like watered down Maharaj, re-packaged for a contemporary audience that doesn’t want to deal with the heavier, more authentic sources. Osho is a fraud, and I have no time or trust for the ramblings of a seriously corrupt and weak individual, who nevertheless possesses an impressive intellect (though not especially for someone with a PhD in Indian Philosophy), and an astounding ability to manipulate people. Osho is like a politician who is expert at telling people what they want to hear. I also like Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo, Alan Watts, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Krishnamurti, Ken Wilber, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, though Maharaj is my favorite (I have reservations about some of those others).
No, I haven’t missed the point of spirituality. I understand Tolle’s point, and also understand why it is a mere platitude that applies to a stained carpet, but not to real suffering in the real world. I’ve bought and read three of his books, and it’s only after digesting them and getting a little distance from them that the critical flaws in his thinking and behavior have become more apparent. True, conclusions of the intellect are not the same thing as a peaceful abiding in the now, or a more powerful realization. In fact, the intellect gets in the way, and the simulacrum of language-based reality should not be mistaken for reality itself. However, false and misleading statements by sham gurus who live lives of luxury made from their teachings, are only helpful in assuaging the guilty consciousnesses of the wealthy by convincing them that anyone can be spiritual or enlightened, no matter how much they horde for themselves unthinkingly at the expense of others and the environment. Many, many people find this message priceless, which is why they buy books, audio, and videos to persuade themselves of it.
Tolle is milquetoast spirituality for those that don’t live in reality, and Osho is a manual of justifications for any and all patently wrong and selfish behavior.
Let me give you a clue. The real guru won’t show up in a Rolls Royce or a Jaguar, because he or she won’t give a shit about his or her vehicle, and will give away teachings for free. Do you really think the man that implies he could survive being in a concentration camp if he breathed through his nose and was quietly present can’t go without driving a Jaguar or making millions off of his watered down pamphlets that are repackaged Maharaj? Anyone who is familiar with the Advaita branch of Hinduism will immediately recognize that what Tolle is now putting forth as his own understanding the textbook perspectives of this standard Indian philosophy. He used to admit his indebtedness, but I can’t find any recent admissions.
At one point Osho was jailed for some crimes in America (I can’t remember if it was visa, property or tax related). In jail, guess how he looked. Resilient? No. Strong? No. Confident? No. Radiant? No. He looked miserable, bored, and dejected, like an ordinary broken man. These gurus have big words about suffering while living pampered, protected, lives of luxury. Tolle’s pretentious twaddle is ultimately only useful for not losing ones temper at the hired labor for not working hard enough for peanuts.
Why not go directly to the source and read what a real guru has to say, who lived humbly and gave talks for free? : http://selfdefinition.org/nisargadatta/Nisargadatta_I_Am_That.pdf
Note: From Wikipedia: The book is considered the author’s masterpiece and a spiritual classic by authors and teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Adyashanti, who called the book a “standout” and “the clearest expression I’ve ever found.”
And that’s why all those guys are just mouthing Maharaj’s words, and while he lived simply, they use his philosophy in a distorted way to make millions.
I’d write more, but I gotta’ eat.
Thanks for your response.
I love I am That – one of my most treasured books in spiritual literature. I find the questioners hit home with many of my own concerns so it’s great. When I need a reminder, I have a great resource in that book.
Osho – I couldn’t care less about his so-called hypocrisy, “sham” quality, etc. etc. His teachings are brilliant (for me). His teachings prompt me towards self-awareness. He is one of the best I have come across. The kind of stuff you mention about him is not important except to a mind that is attached to certain ideas about what spirituality is and is not. Osho speaks to me. I’ll leave the gossip to the tabloids.
Back to I am That. Nisargadatta’s teaching is wonderful. But you keep calling it philosophy. It’s in no way philosophy. It is meant to point you to something in yourself beyond mind. Tolle, Osho and Nisargadatta all tell you this. You seem to hate on Tolle and Osho based on the idea that they are (poor) philosophers. You are attached to an image of spiritual literature as some kind of theory. Look over all your posts here and try to observe how you have used this image for egoic purposes. Try to use this instance as a pointer for yourself. Every moment has the potential for spiritual awareness. Lots have said that but Tolle made me remember it.
If I am That has not allowed you to go deeper, then discard it because it seems like you have tied yourself to it for egoic reasons.
As for Tolle being a well-to-do guru – don’t worry about that! If he says something or does something that allows you to go deeper in your own self, why are you bothering about the “true” sufferers, the ones you insist that he cannot speak to (something by the way that you can never actually know, you can only assume it)? Don’t theorize about who others are when you don’t even know who you are yourself. Most spiritual seekers will not read Nisargadatta but they will read Tolle. The more teachers the merrier!!! Spiritual messages ought to be disseminated! If you feel the reality of that inner depth, you will want to shout it from the rooftops, not criticize those who are shouting it! Moreover, Tolle freely admits that he isn’t saying anything new.
When I say you have missed the point of spirituality, I don’t mean it as an insult, believe me. What I mean is that you have become enamored with the words but have missed what the words point to. I’ll say it again and with force – spirituality is NOT of the mind. If you try to “make sense” of it you will fail and you will miss it. But your ego will gain something – it will feel good about winning against the “false gurus” and the “pretentious twaddle” in spiritual literature. Nisargadatta seems not to have allowed you to take that next step. What he has become is a sort of philosophical keystone for you – something against which to compare other spiritual teachings (negatively). That’s great for a PhD thesis but it becomes an obstacle in spirituality.
Who knows what might take you deeper…maybe if you are willing to listen openly it could be Tolle, maybe Osho, maybe a sunset, maybe a musical piece, maybe a 10-miture session where you just sit silently. But at present you are like a frozen river – you won’t be able to flow or go deeper until you relax. Your mind is your master right now instead of your servant. The Hsin Hsin Ming is apt here: Don’t seek the truth, only drop your opinions!
Hello, again, Michael:
I call it Indian Philosophy, because, well, technically it IS philosophy: “Advaita Vedanta is a sub-school of the Vedanta school of Vedic or Hindu philosophy and religious practice”.
Anyway, I have my own personal guru. I’m sure you haven’t heard of him, because he doesn’t seek fame or fortune, lives humbly, and refuses to talk to most people because they are only interested in “spiritual masturbation”. I shared your comments with him. He laughed and said that you came off as if you were preaching to a puppet in your imagination in order to inflate your own sense of self-importance, and you had no idea who or what I am. When I read the part about shouting off of rooftops, he said, “Roosters are called cocks for a reason!” You might check him out if you have time. Actually, he talks about Tolle and Osho as well in my interview with him: https://artofericwayne.com/2013/05/27/not-your-run-of-the-mill-fake-guru/
Hi Eric, thanks for responding.
I actually came across your comments initially on that website. I have no idea if your guru “gets it” or not, to be honest and whether he does or not is none of my business .
However, I’ll say it again: spirituality is not philosophy. Philosophy stays at the level of the mind. If that’s where you want to stay, that’s perfectly ok but spirituality transcends any words. If you are interested in spirituality as philosophy, that’s a great hobby (really!) but its kind of like being interested in reading music and never actually listening to it!
That being said, try something out: using logic, look at the silliness of judging a spiritual teaching by the behaviour/humility/whatever of the teacher. First of all, its a logical fallacy called the “tu quoque” fallacy (eg. determining that the conclusion “Smoking is bad for your health” is somehow incorrect or bad advice if it comes from a smoker).
Secondly, its counter-intuitive! Imagine if you read a passage in the Bible where Jesus says something to his disciples that just knocks you off your feet. From that moment forward you simply cannot see life the same way – you just awaken to reality in a way you never thought possible. But then, some scholar proves scientifically that the historical Jesus never existed. And you just deflate and you go back to living the same way you did before…wouldn’t that be silly? I
If you depend for your spiritual awareness on the behaviour of your humble guru, what will you do if he wins the lottery tomorrow and starts to live the high life? Is your spiritual awareness so fragile that it depends on something so tenuous, so subject to change?
Your ego is what insists that you judge spiritual teachers based on their lifestyles. For my part, I couldn’t care less if a teacher is a billionaire, starving in the gutter, playing golf or wandering in the mountains. Why? Because I understand that it’ is not important what a teacher “does” but what he/she IS. The seemingly most humble spiritual teacher in the world can also be the most egoic if their sense of self is dependent on this behavioral trait.
I’ll leave you with a question: why do make a distinction between a “true” and “fake” guru? What part of you is asking that and why is it so important? Obviously, beyond the level of thought, there is no such distinction. If Tolle does nothing for you but he awakens ten others, is he “fake”? If your guru awakens one person but nobody else, is he “true”? Maybe try to observe that part of you that is so concerned with these labels.
I think you have me confused with someone less aware than yourself.
At least let me illustrate one of my original points above about quoting spirituality out of context:
“Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of our unwillingness to move on, to flow with life.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, from I am That
Let me remind you that you called Nisargadatta your “favorite” author and you touted I am That as “authentic”. And yet, you could slap this out-of-context quote onto one of the images of starving children above and spark a lot of indignation on the internet, just like you did with Tolle’s quote. Of course, it would be just as disingenuous.
Not really. Even that quote has some built in context that clearly indicates that the kind of suffering he refers to is mental, and a kind of clinging. Obviously, if you are suffering because your home has just been bombed by a drone, and some of your family are buried alive, and you are pinned by your crushed legs, the problem isn’t “an unwillingness to move on”. Nisargadatta, as you probably know, died of a very painful throat cancer. Toward the end he even acknowledged that he wasn’t explicitly against suicide if an individual was in great pain. [Note: I never said he is my favorite author. I said he is my favorite of the gurus.] As you probably also know, he kept giving free talks up until very near the end. He makes a clear division between mental suffering, which has to do with attitude, identification, clinging, and so on, and other kinds of suffering which one might not be able to endure, even if one is enlightened. That is a more realistic perspective, which some may not like, because they fear something terrible might happen to them, and convince themselves that it will not if they have the proper attitude. Maharaj does not cater to the weakness of the ego, but your Tolle and Osho do, because it sells better.
Now, of course, I know Maharaj’s context because I’ve read his books very carefully, with lots of underlines and notes. And what he said seemed true in relation to my own insights, reason, and entheogenic-engendered mystical experiences. But I have also read 3 of Tolle’s books, and listened to some of his lectures (until I couldn’t stand his weird ticks and mannerisms), and I am quite capable of telling the difference between what he says and what Majaraj says. They both espouse classic Advaita Vedanta Hindu philosophy (the “diamond path” of the intellect). And please don’t lecture me about “philosophy” missing the point of spirituality. You obviously have no real understanding of philosophy if you think it is just about abstract ideas. Unless those ideas are a means to an end that is outside of language structure they are meaningless. Many philosophers, such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have talked about the limitations of reason. Do you so flatter your own self that you dismiss all philosophers as not being spiritual? Do you honestly believe that you are more spiritual than Socrates? It’s surprising how much philosophy used logic to recognize the limits of logic and reason. We can logically understand that there is that which the human mind can never encapsulate, and many philosophers have discussed the value of seeking just that which can not be apprehended my reason or the mind. You do a terrible disservice both to philosophy and to yourself in characterizing it as merely cerebral conjecturing.
As I said before, Tolle is just mouthing Maharaj and Advaita, watering it down, sugar-coating it, and selling it to a contemporary audience who are not looking for real spirituality or transcendence (not really), but rather a placebo or anodyne to make life less scary or difficult for them. Tolle and Osho sell fantasies.
With Maharaj you can alleviate self-imposed mental suffering, possibly, by overcoming identification with a limited and vulnerable separate self in a seemingly hostile universe. However, you cannot overcome physical laws, or protect yourself from unexpected catastrophe.
The enormous attraction milquetoast bastardizations of Maharaj’s teaching have for people is the notion that you are the entirety, and you are already enlightened, but you don’t know it. People take this very literally, suddenly THINK they now know they are enlightened, and then go around the internet parading their new status. They CLING TO NOTIONS that enlightenment is not different from quotidian existence, in which case, the only real difference between their enlightened selves and those they preach to, or their own previous lives, is the newfound (false) conviction that they are enlightened, which they absolutely are not.
Frequently, not surprisingly, practitioners of watered-down Advaita become enlightened after smoking weed. Really, they are just high and contemplating spiritual ideas at the same time. Couldn’t hurt, unless their egos convince themselves after the fact that they are enlightened, and worse if they go around acting like they are, and doing things like talking down to other people and telling them they completely miss the point of spirituality, and Osho (the multi-millionaire fake guru whose message is that you can be filthy rich and still become enlightened). Meanwhile, people were starving and dying of preventable diseases right outside of Rajneesh’s ashram in India, and a tiny fraction of his unimaginable wealth could have been used to help alleviate their pain and very real suffering. But no, he was “the rich man’s guru”. He didn’t help them. He didn’t give a shit. He was a fraud. Yes, a very good wat to evaluate people is by how they treat others. Amassing ridiculous wealth while your own kind just outside the gates of your ashram lead desperate and poor lives shows no real appreciation of life or the core shared beingness of all people.
No, it is not a good thing if the ideas of this or that fraud or deluded (and possibly megalomaniacal) individual help others to delude themselves into thinking they are already enlightened, when their presumptuous and condescending behavior shows they are anything but. The reason people who have used Advaita to delude themselves that they are enlightened parade around the internet preaching is that they need other people to also believe they are enlightened (a sure sign that they are NOT).
You have preached a lot to me, and talked down to me, telling me that I completely miss the point of spirituality. This is you claiming to be more spiritual than me. Quite a claim, indeed. It is the height of arrogance and presumptuousness to present yourself to someone else as their spiritual superior. Wow! It’s time to turn the tables. Ask yourself why you talked down to me in comment after comment on my blog, without even looking at my art. [You could start with this one.] You didn’t even bother to give me the benefit of the doubt. Admit your arrogance. Or if you don’t believe it’s arrogance, at least presumptuous condescension. It will do you well because it’s better to be humble. At least that’s what I think.
I’ve enjoyed your article and the discussions below. Tolle introduced me to ideas that I’ve found comforting and yet also enlightening (i.e non-duality, being the watcher not the thoughts etc) and I concede that I have projected onto him a kind of wishful safety net for my ego and a pleasant comforting way to make me feel superior and connected with the ‘idea of a guru’ who rebukes the comforts of consumer opulence and speaks to the meek and the mild and stillness and laughs and pokes fun at insane corporate ego traps. Many times I’ve found myself holding him up as the messiah and wanting to know HIS thoughts on nearly every matter under the sun from health and sexuality to healing trauma and overcoming fear of death. He seemed so incorruptible and I remember a few years ago joking with my friend what it would be like it discover a darker side to Tolle, seeing him sneaking out the back after a talk about presence and simplicity with a wheel-spinning Ferrari into the night.
Are you aware what model Jaguar he is now apparently driving? I ask because I am aware they have a line of ordinary inexpensive sedans. I drive a 17 year old BMW hatchback (for which I paid $2K last year) and while the make has some very high end options mine has about the same luxury and performance as a honda civic; I purchased it because it was the best engineered solid car for the money – hopefully to last a good 10 years still. I wonder if he also purchased a ‘sensible’ Jaguar?
I know I am treading a slippery slope and my moral standards are far from an objective gold standard, but to me it somehow does make a difference if he is driving a $150K+ sports car or a used $20K sedan (but what about a new $80K sedan?). I don’t know if this is my ego wanting to have a go at him, or more to the point my ego wanting to hopefully maintain the capacity to continue projecting him as the once pedestalled hero I pinned my ego alongside!
Of course I do find the picture of him in a sports car somewhat ironic and hypocritical, and though I already can’t afford one of his talks (indeed I find the whole idea of a huge paying audience distasteful and I imagine dis-empowering for the audience), this would put the nail in the coffin for me to never buy or perhaps even read another of his books.
I see you create visual art, I look forward to looking at more of it soon. Reading your comments I was interested to note some of the words coming up that I used in a recent song of mine. It is a kind of prayer and affirmation about claiming my own trustworthy inner warning ’emotions’ that tell me to keep clear of (indeed openly challenge) self-serving so called ‘experts’ with their ailing platitudes and projected guilt to assuage consciences for ongoing heinous wrongs in aide of perpetuating a smooth way for the separation of humanity with further razor wire and economic slavery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUeFW21hulY
Hi Warren. I’m not sure what kind of Jaguar he drives. I don’t even know where I got that information originally, but I think it was in an interview with him where he stated what his car was. I agree that there’s a difference between a quality vehicle and a luxury vehicle. But I just come back to my own life and struggling with this or that problem, and I think someone who is enlightened should be as content as I am – much more so in fact – with as much as I have. What does a guru need with a luxury sedan? If you look at the writings of NIsargadatta Maharaj, you will find all of Eckhart’s finest thought already expressed. Eckhart repackaged Maharaj, and has even acknowledged his indebtedness. Maharaj gave ONLY free lectures in his home until nearly the day of his death, and lived very, very humbly.
Of course a guru or enlightened person doesn’t have to be poor, but should be very comfortable with modest housing, and beyong his essential needs and a bit for a rainy day should give his teaching away for free. The first sign of a fake enlightened person is that he or she has made a business out of ostensibly being enlightened. I don’t even make any money for my art, but I keep producing it and sharing it. I’d expect at least as much from an enlightened person.
Have a look at THIS, if you haven’t already: http://advaita.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf
This is the only guy that I’m really still enthusiastic about.
Hi Eric. Thank you for your reply. I am enjoying the book. I am currently exploring if awakening can be fostered via awareness focused group work (being in deliberately conscious small groups I suspect enhances our capacity to snap out of our illusions). I run relational groups and use a lot of the Gestalt toolkit to help people tune in to present experience while in group process and mutual witnessing. Here Fritz Perls has a man shuffle back and forth between internal (I) and external (world) awareness until he reaches integration and his anxious (fear) state (his illusion of a separate I apart from the world) dissipates, and he for a moment is aware of the integration (non-duality) between ‘I’ and ‘world’. As Perls then says “World and I are one. If I see, I don’t see. The world just is there. As soon as I see, I strain, I pierce, and do all kind of things except having a world.” at 12 minutes in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rog0Q3-vpyg. Interested to hear your thoughts on this.
Back to Tolle, I wonder if buying the Jaguar (presuming it is a sensible sedan and not a 500 horsepower ego trip!) was merely his mind looking after his body by doing its thing in the normal way (without his ego necessarily interfering). To quote Maharaj: “But the idea ‘my body’, as different from other bodies, is not there. To me it is ‘a body’, not ‘my body’, ‘a mind’, not ‘my mind’. The mind looks after the body all right, I need not interfere. What needs be done is being done, in the normal and natural way. ”
I.e. if I had a management team organising my groups and tours and website, and I had not the slightest interest in interfering with their system (which I possibly wouldn’t), and merely showed up for my groups and went home afterward, I might well decide to purchase the most sensible and safe car with available funds without going too ridiculous (which might happen to be a Jaguar if a more knowledgeable (and interested) salesman presented it to me and I said why not (not wanting to think too much or waste any more energy deliberating over such a trivial matter). I can only imagine what I might do in his position, and I can see a lot of decisions coming from practicality (or just not knowing any better or caring either way) rather than ego seeking opulence. For instance, in his position (in the craved modern world), giving talks away for free might even be dangerous (he might get swamped in public places etc, have too many people overwhelm him with their constant nagging requests) so having a management team might just be the best available option he ever came across (or that presented itself to him).
I write songs that nobody has yet wanted to pay me money for, (nor yet much for my group facilitating work), but if all of a sudden everyone wanted a piece of my work and I had constant calls from people wanting me to be in a million places at once, I guess (to save my sanity) I would also hire a manager or a secretary, and just accept the world I live in and where it takes me to from there (be it imperfect in so many ways). It may end up that my $2K car becomes a $30K car just out of share time constraints. My $2K car requires a lot of my attention (replacing of old parts, broken thermostats etc that I have to do because I can’t afford a newer car). If I were more busy running groups, I might buy a newer car to save more time for pursuing the activities that seem to bring myself and others the greater consciousness, compassion, connection etc.
The thing I most find myself thinking ‘If I were Eckhart’ is that I would use my position of influence to raise awareness of many other global issues that I believe are of great concern to humanity, such as sweatshop economies created by debt based global monetary scams, the ways corporate serving officious education systems harm children with fear and competition and stamping out their capacity to invent, play, socialise and make real relational contact with one another on more conscious and compassionate levels, the harms from removing all boundaries of corporations to advertise and market their wares (gadgets, TV etc) onto children and so on.
But perhaps Eckhart just hasn’t thought of any of these things, or doesn’t feel he has much of any intelligence to say about anything other than what he already is talking about. Rather than willfully turning a blind eye, perhaps he really is like a naive child when it comes to the horrors of the wider commercial world (he never had to raise small children recently for instance). Maybe he never had to work as a labourer or an electronics salesman, or know what it’s like to be a teacher surrounded with meddlesome red tape and boxes to be constantly ticked and crossed, and pressure to get the kids on laptops with insulting and controlling profit driven software.
My questions are how would an enlightened person survive in a modern consumer world of millions of spiritually starving socially isolated outward projecting lost souls willing to jump into sycophancy to hear just a glimpse of your pedestalled wisdom.
Jesus or Buddha would have had it easier with just a handful of rag tag in-the-flesh followers. No reality TV mass online media idolization groping narcissistic culture to misappropriate their words to newer levels of low. Perhaps Eckhart is more a product of the modern medium than his intelligence has the capacity to stretch to understand. He may be great at seeing the universal ‘I’ beyond his own form but completely inept at understanding how the psychology of his followers (and the fact that they are ‘following’) prevents them from owning or discovering their own universality. And he may be equally oblivious that a large means with which the Western world can drink coffee and drive Jaguars is the slavery of the remaining %85 of the world.
So perhaps being spiritually enlightened doesn’t necessarily equate not being ignorant of global political or psychological processes?
But I could be entirely wrong here! For myself, I think the more enlightened I become, the more I WANT to challenge and oppose wrongdoing and neglect and rampant commercialisation. The more I want to make schools more community focused and loving and open and exciting, and less humdrum, market driven, bureaucratic little fear prisons. The more I want to oppose corporations running sweatshops in Bangladesh. The more I want to do something to reduce poverty and war. Is Eckhart’s work ultimately doing this? I’m just not sure. Are his ‘followers’ consuming less sweatshop produced ‘junk’? Living more humbly and lovingly? Buying less iphones and instead connecting with people in their communities more? Jet traveling less? Exchanging their high paid corporate ‘bullshit jobs’ for less remunerated but more meaningful and socially engaged work? Singing in a local choir rather than spending thousands of dollars on attending stadium sport? Buying hatchbacks or small motorcycles instead of giant ego stroking SUVs? and so on.
Has watching his videos and reading his books over the years helped me develop more resolve to live a more compassionate life. Yes I believe so. May he have at the same time helped others feel less guilty about working in careers that perpetuate profoundly harmful institutions? I don’t know.
Again, thanks for initiating some very relevant dialogue.
Hi Warren. Great comment! The material you mentioned in the beginning is new to me so I couldn’t comment just yet. off the top of my head it’s counterintuitive that any group dynamics would be helpful in achieving enlightenment, if such a thing is possible, what with all the possible competitiveness, dealing with how others perceive one, and just the presence of divisible identities and being identified as one oneself. The Buddha and Jesus are both reported to have spent weeks alone, Jesus fasting and the Buddha meditating, before achieving realization, so to speak.
My best guess is that quieting the mind and in particular escaping language is the key. The mind continually projects onto reality and weaves a narrative over it with language. It lives in perpetual fear of the disintegration of this language-based hold on reality, and that’s why there’s an almost uninterrupted inner dialogue. Probably the fastest way to escape from consensual reality is through a wise and measured use of psychoactives, which forcibly disrupt the mind’s ability to maintain its reality which is based on language and abstract understanding.
Back to Eckhart. It sounds like you are trying to make plausible excuses for him. and doing a fine job at it. However, I have the same objection to your line of reasoning about him not thinking about various important issues, or being innocent of them, as I do when this is applied to politicians (ex., Hillary Clinton supporting the war on Iraq). It’s their full time job, which they are being handsomely rewarded for, to think about such issues. If you or I can do it in our free time, without any compensation, they can do it with years or decades dedicated to it.
And you argument about being more cognizant, concerned, and involved with social and environmental issues as you become more aware and less self-centered made me think that to sold the world’s problems and dramatically ease suffering, what is needed is not enlightened gurus, but decent, thoughtful, humanitarian, generous, but fallible, regular people.
At present I confess I don’t believe in enlightenment. I’d like to, but don’t see any evidence that the self-proclaimed enlightened are doing much in the world. Why aren’t enlightened people the best musicians, artists, and writers? And why are so many of them, like OSHO (with his 90 Rolls Royces), obsessed with ostentatious opulence, and being worshiped as a god? Why are there so many scandals, such as around Sai Baba, who used his fame and power to molest boys?
I can’t find a guru to look up to. Certainly not Tolle with his appearances on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday”. You argue that it may simply be that he doesn’t bother about practical financial issues much, and perhaps he charges for his talks so that he isn’t absolutely swamped wherever he talks. Ah, but then he could make his videos available online for free, so that everyone could follow his teachings as long as they could get access to the internet. Last I checked, his materials were pricy. If one is really teaching enlightenment, there’s no excuse to not make it completely free, at least if one is able to take care of ones basic needs (or is a millionaire, like Eckhart).
So, in short, the world needs humanitarians, humanists, artists, musicians, doctor, writers, builders… Real people doing real work with their lives. I’m not sure more demigods to worship does much. However, I am sure that things like meditation, yoga, and even a good diet and exercise can make a very big difference in one’s level of energy, commitment, and so on.
Hopefully I’m wrong about enlightenment not being real, or so rare that only a handful of human have ever reaches it. But if we just try to be the best people we can, there’s a world of obvious, long lasting, and far reaching benefit to ourselves, and the world.
Hi Eric. I especially enjoyed your last two paragraphs about being the best people we can. And something tells me that this act of choosing to step outside of ourselves and join our wider humanity, is perhaps the very act that leads to what we might call ‘enlightenment’ (or IS the act of enlightenment in and of itself!) more than any other action. For the act of deliberately thinking of and acting toward what is best (in the widest and most conscious and compassionate sense) for others is the act of seeing value (creating value) in consciousness and awakening beyond that experienced through our own singular form, thus taking us away from identification with our singular form. This is why I think groups can be the perfect means of catalysing ‘awakening’ – if done the right way.
I appreciate your thoughts on Tolle, and pointing out how he could obviously make his online teachings free. My weak (crumbling!) defense would be that his self perpetuating management gravy train with its many employees might have muscled into such a sturdy little institution as to make it very difficult for him to circumvent their decisions about pricing and business structure. But this places him in more of a helpless infantile position than his words indicate he has the potential to at least rise above of. And yet like Hillary Clinton it seems he has fallen victim to his own success and found it easier not to take a higher ground but to follow the money trail – perhaps something we are all vulnerable of, and maybe only the most ‘enlightened’ of us (by my earlier definition as being those of us most able to step outside ourselves) would be able to make this stance when faced with the temptation and surrounding support or pressure (especially in Hillary’s case) to take the easier route (war or profit) that won’t ruffle the nearest and dearest (and most powerful) feathers.
Now, yes while less mature aspects to me may find it comforting, I also realise that my better nature doesn’t actually like the idea of another guru to look up to. Especially because it takes me from owning my own capacities and experiences, and so from stretching the muscles of my own response-ability.
In terms of the group process/experience, my experience is that it takes a deliberate meditation and explicitly stated values of openness and curiosity in order for a group to move beyond competition and stuckness of perceptions and identities (the negative that pretty much every modern group experience cements into us from pre-school onwards) in order to get to a place of instead playing with identity and watching fixed ideas of self shift and dissolve.
After doing much group work (co-counseling and Gestalt groups), I have gone from feeling incredibly self-absorbed and separate (and afraid and lonely etc) to being more able to ‘watch’ my mind and body go about it’s business including making contact with others, and I have at times of this contact (especially in Gestalt style groups) almost experienced a complete dissolving of the boundary between self and other. That I was the ‘consciousness’ in the room floating between all the bodily forms sitting facing each other. As Perls wrote, the “world and I were one”.
I also absolutely see the value in solitude and when I think of Jesus or Buddha in the desert, I am wondering if (in contrast to modern fear and competition fed and raised Westerners) if both would have known more grounding and nourishing and ‘self-dissolving’ group experiences from which to jump off from. Mark Fairfield alludes to this possibility in an interesting article where he writes:
“We borrow faith practices that come from deeply
engaged, collective societies and then use them for the
purpose of enhancing retreat. Certainly mindfulness
can help us to stay engaged with environments that
trouble us, but our attitudes about social engagement
continue to constrain our interest in relying on mind-
fulness to that end. Instead, we are using meditation to
insulate ourselves from each other.
The neurobiological evidence, however, demon-
strates how our emotions are regulated and revised in
relationship. Neuroscientists Lewis, Amini and Lannon
(2001) describe how mutual resonance serves to keep
human beings well supported through a process they
the first person regulates the physiology of the second,
even as he himself is regulated. Neither is a functioning
whole on his own; each has open loops that only some-
body else can complete. Together they create a stable,
properly balanced pair of organisms. And the two trade
their complementary data through the open channel
their limbic connection provides. (pp. 85–86)”
Here is the full article if you are interested. I appreciate both Maharaj/Tolle and Fairfield. What Fairfield writes engages me on a different level (perhaps more ‘action inviting’ and ultimately less introspective in the sense that DOING connection (with others) takes me out of myself just as does solitude and meditation. I think I need a balance between both. http://www.relationalchange.org/pdf/FairfieldRelationalMovementPDF.pdf
Hi Warren. Thanks for the rare thoughtful and constructive dialogue, in which mutual parties are reasonably well understood. Know that I don’t have conclusions on most of this stuff, but rather working assumptions based on what I know (or how I interpret what I know) now.
You proposed that overcoming selfishness and concerning ourselves with the big picture of all of humanity and the environment may be the best route to enlightenment, or may be enlightenment itself. Why include the word “enlightenment” at all. It may just be that caring about the universe one lives in, and not just oneself, is to be an “adult”, though I supposed younger people can do it as well, in which case we might just say being “human” or “humane”.
I doubt the good people in Greenpeace, for example, think of themselves as enlightened. Enlightenment, I think, means a dissolution of the personal ego, or more likely identification with it (because you need an egoic nexus from which to operate), and this is not required for humanitarian action. You can have an ego and still do the right thing for the right reasons, even selflessly. If the goal is to fix our planet and make life closer to the living paradise it could be for most people, probably what we need is to overcome corruption, selfishness, and greed (which are all so intimately related they are basically one thing). We can overcome it in ourselves, but we need to also overcome rule by the selfish when such rule is hastening our own extinction via anthropogenic global warming, and taking everything else down with us.
Theoretically an enlightened person is not corrupt and not capable of it, however, a lot of spirituality is used as a way to justify corruption as something inevitable, or if it issues from the guru himself (or herself), as actually a good which is unfathomable by the unenlightened. People pose as enlightened in order to give themselves a kind of absolute authority on the highest issues, and they must love the god-like status they accrue to themselves. In this way “enlightenment” is counter-productive, and OSHO’s ashram in Inida at one time was surrounded by poor Indians living in poverty and dying of curable diseases. He didn’t care. Better to have a decent person who acknowledges her faults and is willing to drop $100 on medicine and save lives.
You may be right about group dynamics working to help individuals act as better people, but, again, I’m not sure it has anything to do with enlightenment, nor needs to. It just needs unselfish adult people who have some humility and are basically decent.
It sounds like group work was very useful for you, but I do think that stepping out of yourself momentarily may or should be a normal part of being a functioning, ordinary person. Seflishness and self-centeredness are the antithesis of enlightenment, so any progress on the continuum away from selfishness and towards compassion and cooperation is good, however it is achieved. Those who propose that they are enlightened, however, don’t position themselves anywhere on that continuum, but as having jumped the track, and to occupy an absolutely different, and mostly permanent perspective and reality, from which point morality is usually considered not only irrelevant, but pernicious! You need not bother about fixing the world or saving the rain forests, they say, but rather you should accept their destruction without attachment or mourning. You should, they say, not be attracted or repelled by any eventuality, because form their universal perspective (the perspective of the infinite universe), none of that really signifies anyway.
It sounds like you are right about the value of working in groups in order to overcome being selfish, but I also see no reason to introduce “enlightenment” into the mix. How many people do you imagine are really enlightened today? Can you think of even one person who claims to be that you can have real faith in? So it seems much more practical to just see people as they are, and measure them by their behavior and actions, without attributing any super-status to anyone. If there is no enlightenment, why strive after something unachievable when there are real world achievable goals that will make life better for all of us.
There are however thousands of people claiming to be enlightened, especially online, and I find them insufferably condescending. I can direct you to one of them who I blocked because I couldn’t stand his condescension anymore.
I even invented a fake guru to argue spiritual questions with them, but who they couldn’t concdescend to, because he is supposedly enlightened (he isn’t, because he isn’t real): https://artofericwayne.com/2013/05/27/not-your-run-of-the-mill-fake-guru/
So, in short, you don’t need to be enlightened to achieve anything, great or small. On top of that, anyone who claims enlightenment mostly makes a business out of it and doesn’t contribute anything much else. The self-proclaimed enlightened person seems never to be satisfied with their enlightenment, but must substantiate it through acknowledgement and admiration from others (as sure sign it’s not real, otherwise it wouldn’t require external substantiation). I guess a lot of people want to see themselves as special, and to have followers who see them in that light. And what is there to do when you are “enlightened” other than preach to others and sell your services, so they too in turn may someday preach to stil other and sell their services. It all kind of reminds me of books on how to be a success, wherein the success of the author lies in selling books on how to be a success.
On the other hand, it is possible to have spiritual experiences, learn from them, and apply that knowledge to bettering the world.
I am re-assessing my thoughts on the idea of ‘enlightenment’. I am beginning to see it more as temporary (or recurring) expanded states of consciousness, but that yes, I increasingly believe that the most important thing is how we live our lives and how much we nurture one another to become the best we can be.
I agree that we are effecting our planet and health negatively (globally), however I do not see evidence that the mechanism of damage are via anthropogenic global warming (i.e. CO2). Rather electrical pollution (radiations), chemicals (organophosphates, psychiatric drugs etc), and (especially) psychological/social threats (isolation, consumerism, competition and fear based education etc).
Warren, I thought you were pretty sharp, but, how could you be duped by the “Climate Change Hoax” malarkey? Who are you going to believe, a global consensus of scientists, or a handful of quacks? Please note that “No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from” that main arguments for human based Global Warming. Check for yourself in Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change
There is no real controversy. I repeat, there is no real controversy. Time Ball has been roundly repudiated. Please don’t be gullible enough to believe that the entire scientific community, the scientific method, objectivity, and rational discourse are all wrong and part of a conspiracy to bilk the taxpayer out of money to fund their research [you know, as opposed to thinking that the fossil fuel industry – the most powerful and prosperous multinational corporations in existence – are the ones with a vested interest in trillions of dollars, and are really the ones trying to dupe us].
Why do you believe this guy as opposed to say, NASA? Do you really think NASA is stupid? Do you value the scientific method at all? http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
I’m just shocked and saddened to see intelligent, educated, well-mainging people arguing that human based global warming isn’t real. You might as well be on the Titanic arguing that the iceberg is an illusion. Hope you can be open-minded enough to get on the right side of the fence on this issue.
I don’t think suppressing your emotions is EVER healthy, regardless of how petty the situation seems. Emotions are involuntary, and sure, you need to reason with yourself, but how are you supposed to prevent your emotions from overpowering you if you’re not even acknowledging that they exist? All spiritual victim-blaming ever does is cause people to feel guilty about their emotions. And faking a smile 24/7 will only allow these “negative” feelings to grow.
Hello there,..i read through what i could of this last night…I googled yesterday spirituality and victim blaming and for once I felt a bit of relief…in the fact that my feelings and opinions arent just my own about this subject.
Im not on here to whine or feel like a ‘victim’ which I feel is overly used.
I can comprehend why people feel this way about victim blaming and spirituality and I also feel the term or word ego is overly used..we all are individuals and we are human.
I need to elaborate personally what i think and feel and what i have experienced so far in my lifetime as a 39 yr young woman.
I experienced a man exposing himself when i was about 5.
I experienced sexual abuse at the age of 13.
I also experienced domestic violence of a mental nature and in hindsight…i can see how religion had formed most of the domestic abuse by the way the person spoke to me….your fault you ate the apple…natural selection…’you get what you deserve…karma’ when i explained the childhood experiences to my ex partner.
For the purpose of explaining why im saying that….the psychological damage and spiritual damage done to a child…a child by either perpetrators of sexual abuse and domestic violence regardless of gender….and to explain to someone that a victim of any crime of any nature or an experience which causes harm or distress to anyone…is warrented in the spirituality realm as deserving…karmatic or as i read just two nights ago in a book,….if a man is attacked in an alley, somewhere spiritually he is unfit and somehow that mans inner world was reflected in his outerworld is victim blaming at its finest….
I do not agree with it…and want nothing to do with it….i have a decent set of morals and i feel my heart is in the right place and i never…ever labled myself as a so called victim…I feel generally that spirituality and compassion yes are valuable but when people are dealing with the likes of mental disordered individuals..who are dangerous…right across the earth and spectrum then the like of these spiritual books have no place…love and compassion for yourself…and keep the fleck away…spirituality doesnt work on certain people in fact its used against you and what i have learned spiritually is that people are sick…if these people apologised and said im sorry for the hurt i caused and tried to change then thatd be a different story.
We arent just egos..we are human beings…emotions are healthy…diverse and enjoyable and have theyre place…I dont want to become just a peacefully spiritual person when in the world and in society, needs people with opinions and voices…passion and action…and to not keep calm and carry on but to use your voice and experiences to say sexual abuse of children is wrong…domestic violence is wrong…war….classism…racial abuse…and the list is endless.
We deal with people who arent conscious of how theyre behaviour affects other people.and no amount of its just theyre ego will ever change that.
This is just my experience…Im just going to leave that one message for informations sake and I dont want to be replying further as Im generally not a person to post on public forums but i get a deep feeling that many more people share my sentiments…
Sending love and best wishes to whomever reads this…xxx
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Good points. There is definitely such thing as undeserved, unanticipated tragedy. I think one would have a hard time arguing that the people working in the twin towers on 9/11 all somehow brought their own demise upon themselves. To the degree that “spirituality” comes into play in circumstances where someone isn’t reaping what they sowed, it is probably in how they handle it after it happens. But even then it’s too easy to judge others who are in situations we don’t share… Tolle and others are selling cheap placebos and making a killing off of it.
An angry white phony mystic’s willful misunderstanding of a spiritual giant.
Who is the angry white phony mystic, and who is the spiritual giant? And why are you talking about spirituality in one breath, and insisting on biological determinism, and using racism in the next? Your comment is an obvious attack, and angry, but who it is directed at isn’t even clear. Perhaps you are punching yourself in the face. The world may never know, or care.
I hope you are doing well! This comment is no means a follow up of all your previous discussions (which I found were really engaging 🙂 )
I just wanted to sort of make a point about interpretation. I am no means an expert at Tolle’s personal life, neither have I ran a background check on him, but I think sometimes words fail to express an absolute intensity or proper level of experience. I’m not talking in terms of spirituality, I’m just talking in terms of everyday experiences.
If we run a thought experiment where I have had the most wonderful day of my life with the one and only love of my life and now I go out and tell people about it, my words will not capture the experience that I have encountered. It is not possible because they will have to be me to experience it. I know this might be obvious to all of us but I don’t think we can understand to what depth the meaning might be lost or diluted to be expressed through language.
Now if I talk about Tolle, maybe its just me and I guess and you would know more since you have more research on it than I do, but I did not interpret him that way at all when I listened to some of his videos. I thought he made it very clear that there are different dimensions/levels of life and experience. He separates them into I think pain body, the ego and just pure being. To me it didn’t seem like his message was as superficial as ‘fix your attitudes’ it was more about emotions and behaviour and our normal mind functionality emerging through its biology and the way it gets conditioned over time. External situation is heavily important as it determines how one will be conditioned in life but there are practices which can be used to step out of these conditional ways of existing (thoughts and emotions). He also very clearly mentions I think in one of his Q&A videos that things like being ok or forgiving or not feeling grief cannot just happen in two seconds like you just fix your attitudes and you are fine – no its something that won’t happen unless there is naturally a complete transpersonal realization or what he calls spiritual awakening. You can conceptually work through things and make yourself understand whether something is important/good/bad but sometimes the experience is required because I think we all can agree, it gives a different depth to our understanding.
So I think when he talks about all of that he is attempting to distinguish concepts (from a human beings perspective which heavily involves emotions) from literal situations in the world. If you actually think about it, the situation itself occurs and there are many situations (that are horrible, horrifying, amazing, excruciating, exciting, etc.) that occur but it is the label that you give it which determines which one of the above it is – and for most part of our lives we don’t sit back and think about this fact.
I think his message is more about attempting come out of emotional impulsiveness to realize the fact that everything is related to another (I recommend cosmos btw if you think I’m not making sense). So that eventually we can help people who are in true suffering like you presented due to pure situational circumstances. So we can maybe dissolve the separation and sense of strong need to defend things that we identify with.
I dont know his intentions or if he’s bsing or not but I think the concept or message is something to think about 🙂
(Again this is my interpretation and maybe I’m completely off ) but I’m really glad you started a discussion about this its something really nice to think about!
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That’s a really old post, and I was reacting to something I read or heard from him at the time. I don’t remember what the issue was.
First, let me remind you that the subtitle of his most popular work, “THE POWER OF NOW”, is “a spiritual guide to enlightenment”. It matters enormously if Tolle is enlightened or not.
My problem with Tolle at this point is I just don’t believe he’s the real deal. I lost faith and interest in all the popular Western spiritual teachers. Since then, Andrew Cohen, who used to run a magazine called “Enlightenment Next” (and also interviewed Tolle) had some scandal, his spiritual community had to close down, and he more or less confessed he F’d up and it had all gone rather enormously to his head. Turn out he wasn’t enlightened after all. He’d just persuaded himself and everyone else he was. Look him up.
All of these new gurus, with their expensive retreats and workshops for the wealthy, borrow their philosophy from Hindu Advaita, and usually openly admit it at some point or another. Advaita teaches that you are already enlightened, you just don’t know it, and these fine new chaps take this rather literally, in which case it becomes comparatively easy to know it, when you are deluding yourself.
One might as well just go to the source if one wants to understand non-duality, and Advaita, and to do so is cheaper, better, and more authentic. There’s nothing Tolle said that I hadn’t already read in Nisargadatta Maharaj’s “I AM THAT”, which you can find free online. Tolle just makes it more palatable and accessible to the modern consumer, and he is most questionable when he tries to extrapolate on his own and apply Advaita to contemporary problems. One can also read all the Ramana Maharshi one wants for free, but I prefer Maharaj.
Maharaj gave all his talks for free from his humble home, but Tolle charges exorbitant amounts for his materials, including exclusive retreats at island resorts.
How to know someone isn’t teaching you about enlightenment? They charge you money for it. The only thing I can recall about the actual issue you are addressing is that I didn’t agree with Eckhart’s interpretation of Advaita.
Also, these days, honestly, I question all the gurus. What have they done with their lives other than, at best, preach their gospel? Why are none of them great writers, artists, or musicians? What they really require is that we believe in them, and I don’t, because they have nothing to show for themselves. And as you point out, it’s difficult to convey a rich experience in words, but nobody has to tell me that Beethoven or Shakespeare understood life very deeply, because they can convey it in their art. What do I get from Eckhart? Watered down, sugar-coated Maharaj, and a bill.
That said, there is good stuff in there, but I’d probably skip all the talk and go for Zen Buddhism if I wanted the benefit of sidelining the mind and being in the unmediated present. I might prefere Stoicism for a more practical philosphy where one has to work and commute and deal with stuff rather than just find peace on a park bench.
So, you could say I just soured on Tolle. At one point I found some of his articulations helpful, but really, only because they helped me keep in mind what Maharaj said better.
Nowadays I’m more concerned about “doing” than how one feels about anything. At the end of the day, it’s the work done that really matters, perhaps even more than one’s attitude towards it. Advaita has helped me cope with difficult situations, and a few times really well, but it doesn’t help me make more of my life. For that I need something else.
I scrolled through the comments this evening… and really enjoyed and want to thank you for the way you express your thoughts…
I’m dealing with an enlightened ‘figure’ that crosses boundaries slightly and then blames it on the others ‘misunderstanding’ or the others ‘closed mind.’ Blabla.
Let me use the word gen Z uses, ‘gaslighting’. Utterly exhausting.
I’ve read Tolle’s books. And it’s good to keep your emotions in check.
But they are there for a reason and to be respected and listened too.
Cheers! And great post!
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Glad my post and the comments were helpful. Right, Tolle doesn’t have all the answers. The beliefs and practices that he represents are useful, but as a friend once said to me decades ago, “anyone can be enlightened on a mountain top”. When you have to be out in the world, got to a job, deal with all sorts of personalities, make a living, and so on, it’s a bit harder than quieting your thoughts on a park bench.
In the end, we may each have to find our own individual paths, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how to live in all circumstances.
And as you figured out, some people get overly enthusiastic about this or that set of pre-existing beliefs that they adopt wholesale, and they think they have all the answers, and they can also proselytize about their new-found clarity of purpose.
I only know that Tolle represents some solutions and practices that work in some situations. Useful, but not a complete cure all.