Friday, February 01, 2008

Tolle calls. Part 1.

Folks, this is gonna be "one of those" posts—actually, it's going to be several of them—so if you have no stomach for philosophizing, especially when that philosophizing takes a self-indulgent turn, you might want to move on to something else. We'll get back to the brass-tacks stuff later.


Fact is, I'm debating whether this will be my final series of posts in the life of SHAMblog. The subject of this series, Eckhart Tolle (shown; and is there an odder-looking person on the planet?), might say I'm having that debate with the entity inside me that is my true self. In any case, the debate has been ongoing for weeks now, and it's coming to a head. More on that in subsequent days as we close out our discussion of Tolle, who, you see, is as good a note as any to end this blog on, if it comes to that. Almost a lock to become 2008's Rhonda Byrne, he embodies all that is the New Age, with its opiate-for-the-masses marketability. I think I have simply grown weary of watching intellect demeaned as the culture goes down in a hail of bullshit.

(Apologies for the language, which, already with that last line, is more raw than what you're used to from me, and may get still more raw as we go. Those who've been here for a while know that I've tried to hold the line on propriety. But we all have our limits. Put it down to "artistic license," redeeming social value and all that.)

I also apologize for the fact that this post assumes some familiarity with Tolle's work on the reader's part. Can't be helped. I can't take the time to explain everything that he believes here, in part because I'm not sure that everything he believes is explicable. But if you're not yet familiar with Tolle and his teachings, don't worry, you soon will be. Oprah has embraced his most recent book, A New Earth, as the latest marquee property for her 700,000-member Book Club; she's making Tolle the beneficiary of the same unstoppable marketing machine that helped transform a quirky little Australian thing called The Secret into a cultural bellwether and the defining self-improvement work of our time worldwide. In the coming months, there's going to be no escaping Eckhart Tolle, even if you try.

Notwithstanding my sarcasm a few graphs ago, we'll begin with an admission that may shock many of you who do know a little something about Tolle. I've been reading the works in Tolle's Power of Now trilogy*, beginning with that book and moving forward through Stillness Speaks and A New Earth—and I find some significant points of agreement between us. Or maybe a more accurate way of putting that would be, I find that I don't disagree with some of his core "givens" as much as I thought I would. Obviously my agreement doesn't make either of us right. It just means that we have some similar ideas about people. I agree, for example, that you are not your thoughts—which is to say, that there is something far deeper that makes us who we are and impels each of us to do the things we do. (That was one reason for my poll question a few weeks back about the tension between intellect and emotion in individual decision-making. Personally, I suspect that the mind spends much of its time trying to make sense of, or rationalize, the things we've already "decided" to do at that deeper level.) However, I vehemently disagree with Tolle that this "under-thing," if you will, can be (a) neatly segregated from the more apparent/overt thing, (b) diagnosed as a new thing unto itself**, (c) calibrated in terms of the degree to which it represents who you really are or what you have in common with others, and/or (d) tamed or trained. I do not think such calculations and modifications can be made—certainly not willfully by each of us as we "work on ourselves."

You may, in fact, be the very last person who can ever attain true self-knowledge, let alone self-control.

But I'm skipping ahead. It's too soon to talk about implementation. For today, my main point is that Tolle's body of work, fascinating and even idealistically uplifting though it may be (and it is), suffers from a number of core-level flaws that are so crippling as to render it almost meaningless as a serious philosophy of life, or even a serious work of spirituality (if such a phrase is not an oxymoron to begin with, that is).

To take things point by point (and we'll have time for Point 1 here):

1. You cannot use the mind to "step outside" the mind. And it's the most extreme form of intellectual dishonesty to even imply that you can—i.e., that you've abandoned or transcended your conscious thought process (and/or your ever-demanding ego) in order to find another, more exalted plane of being. How can you ever know that? Any introspective analysis of the human mind is necessarily weakened and corrupted by the fact that the only tool we have for performing that analysis is the human mind itself. Put another way: No analysis that makes use of the mind can be independent of the mind. (And every analysis uses the mind, even if you don't think that's what you're doing.) That means no such analysis can be truly self-critical, either. In all likelihood, the greater perceptive power that Tolle used in reaching his insights about the deficiencies of ego and conscious thought is just another alcove of his mind or a manifestation of his ego. One is mindful of the old chestnut in philosophy regarding whether a human being can ever reach true objectivity, given that the analysis is being performed by a highly biased human being. (This is also a very practical problem in journalism, of course.) One always must admit the possibility that any so-called objectivity you find is merely a different (and probably more seductive) form of subjectivity.

In other words, to say that one is "stepping outside" one's normal thinking patterns for the purpose of analyzing one's thinking patterns is a paradox (and a hoax). It's as silly as my saying to you, "OK, folks, for the next 10 minutes I'm going to talk to you from an entity that lives inside Steve but is not Steve." By definition, is that even possible? And even if it is, how do you know that's what I'm doing? How do I know it's what I'm doing? You can't know, and neither can I. And neither can Tolle. Or—another example—it's like saying that you're going to look at something, but not use your eye to do it. Not only can you see only what your eye sees, but you must see what your eye sees while it's seeing it. Further, keep in mind that, no matter what you call something, the use to which you put it is what gives it its definition. If I tell you that I've found a totally new way of preparing food that isn't cooking—and then I proceed to perform all of the steps that have heretofore been identified with cooking... Guess what, folks. I'm cooking. Regardless of whatever new label I give it. Ergo, the fact that Tolle may be thinking differently does not mean that he's not thinking, even if what he's thinking differently about is thought itself.

I know I'm belaboring the point, but it's my blog, and I feel that we need to be uber-clear about this before we move on to anything else. It's a contradiction in terms to say that you've found a totally new way of thinking that does not involve thinking; the process of using the mind to reach any given point is, ipso facto, thinking. Even when you're sure you're not thinking, the process of being sure you're not thinking is thinking. This remains true even though there can be a high degree of feeling mixed up in thought, and a high degree of thought mixed up in feeling. In all likelihood, the mind is always engaged.

Interestingly, the circumstances under which Tolle says he stepped outside his mind during a moment of crisis at age 29, when he surrendered his ego and first reached his current "insights," seem to satisfy many of the conditions normally associated with a psychotic break. In an interview that coincided with the publication of Stillness Speaks, Tolle described the incident thusly (I've edited for improved forward motion, but I don't think unfairly):

"I was unhappy, depressed and anxious.... I had been looking for some kind of answer to the dilemma of life, but I had been looking to intellect for the answer.... The more I was looking on that level, the more unhappy I became. I reached a point where the phrase came into my head, 'I can't live with myself any longer.'... Suddenly I stepped back from myself, and it seemed to be two of me—the 'I,' and this 'self' that I cannot live with. Am I one or am I two? And that triggered me like a koan. It happened to me spontaneously. I looked at that sentence—'I can't live with myself.' I had no intellectual answer. Who am I? Who is this self I cannot live with? The answer came on a deeper level...."
Wouldn't it be something if Oprah and her legions of fans one day discovered that they're taking all of this sage spiritual advice from someone who is, in essence, if not factually, insane?

* There's a fourth book, Practicing the Power of Now, that's really a workbook derivative of the first.
** at least, that's not something that we can do to/for ourselves.


Anonymous said...

I believe that Oprah has already catapulted Tolle to his current exalted height by making "The Power of Now" one of her earlier book club picks. Certainly she said that it was one of the most important--she may actually have said the most important--spiritual books she had ever read, and that she kept it by her bedside and read from it every night. I read it, and found it incoherent; I would never have had that reaction from reading it. But I was fortunate in that I was given a copy of "A New Earth" when it first came out, and that was the first Tolle I encountered. By the time of "A New Earth," Tolle had given more thought (if you will) to his subject matter; it is coherent and compelling. Reading it, I too felt that his was one of the great spiritual voices of our age. (And, if Tolle seems to have experienced a fragmenting of his personality, he's in good spiritual company. Looking back at most of the prophets, saints and mystics of yore, one might see schizophrenia at least at work in almost all of them; what was viewed as Divine guidance in the pre-psychiatric age would be seen as a one-way ticket to the funny farm in our own.) I'll be interested to read your thoughts on "A New Earth" when you've had a chance to read it.

Steve Salerno said...

Been there, done that. (Which is to say, I have read it.) I guess my prose is becoming sloppier. Good time to pack it in, eh?

Comments to come.

fundysdotcom said...

Hey Dude,

Interesting comments on the Eckmeister. I have read his books as well as all the others. The book that influenced Tolle, Renard, Finley, Katie, Abraham, and others I do believe was by Arnold Patent back in 1995- the book "You can have it all".

Anyway, your post does bring up some good points and gives me some more things to digest on a personal basis. Thank you for that. However, I applaud what Tolle is saying in that although our current minds may not yet be perfected and mabe we still play word games, but we can still use books like Tolle's to inspire us and point us in the right direction on the path. If there are parts of his writings you don't form agreements with- oops, EST blast from the past phrase, you can remove them as easily as taking the onions out of your own spiritual salad. And if in fact Tolle is insane, it won't make him the first. But who said you can't read books by insane people- Hunter Thompson comes to mind. Crazy man. (Chet Flippo)

Peace out.


Case said...


If you end this blog, my hope is that you start a new one in preparation for your book on Vanity.

For me, Shamblog has served as a voice of reason against a tide of easy solutions for sale.

I do wish you would be more open in your thinking about how to develop and present your ideas.

I've seen glimmers in your writing on the blog that lean towards giving advice or simply elaborating your beliefs and ideas about life, and each time they appear I find them extremely interesting.

I for one find it valuable to see old wisdom stated in new ways and you are able to do that very well.

I've pulled some of my favorite examples from the ShamBlog Archives.

"One of the biggest misconceptions that my critics try to spread about me is that "he's totally against people spending money to improve themselves!" Nonsense. I shouldn't have to say this, but I'm going to, once again: I don't oppose advice, per se. What I oppose is worthless, generic, overblown pseudo-advice that may well end up doing you significant harm, especially when it's rendered by self-appointed gurus who have no standing to be giving such advice in the first place and are, in too many cases, only in it for the money."

"In any valid form of life coaching**, however, I'd think it would be important to be able to demonstrate that one has, indeed, "lived" the kinds of things one is teaching/preaching. If life coaching is about anything at all, it should be about figuring life out and navigating its trickiest waters successfully: making appropriate decisions and sacrifices (sacrifices must still be made, even in today's era of Empowerment); weighing the enticing vs. the practical; comprehending and exhibiting good judgment; exercising willpower. It strikes me as important to model that behavior. It strikes me as important to show the people you're mentoring that it's really possible to make sacrifices, to see the big picture, to set priorities and understand which ones are worth honoring and why. It strikes me as important to be able to show people that it's actually possible to live that way, not just talk about it. Because almost anybody can talk a good game."

"... many Americans would rather hope than think; they'd rather "live" an imaginary life of conjured superlatives than get the most out of their actual life of everyday ups and downs."

"If only to refute the skeptics who claim that I'm never happier than when I make life sound as dark and hopeless as possible, I'm ever on the lookout for things I can point to in the SHAMscape that may actually be worthwhile (or at least less fraudulent than the rest of it) ... 1.It was Specific ... 2.It was Actionable ... 3.It didn't overreach."

When SHAM was released, you were one of the few authors taking a critical look at the empowerment and human potential movement.

Must you still hold on so tightly to what must be very comfortable to you ... the role of the devils advocate?

I wish you would abandon this old hat, even if only for one book, to develop your ideas about life more fully. I'm sure your agent has given up on you already on this angle.

But there are two sides of your writing that I see in the blog. One is the critical voice that cries out for reason and fairness. The other is a softer side that watches Lifetime and is hopeful yet practical and believes in the potential within people.

Don't you dare pack it up.

There are so many of your ideas that are only partially developed in your writing.

I'm sure the ideas are very developed in your own mind, but what about us?

How can you only give us a glimpse of your advice giving side in writing?

I think you've already covered just about every aspect of reporting on the damaging aspects of the self-help industry.

The sad fact is that if there was a scientific way to prove how the self-help industry does damage to individuals, families, and society, I still don't think people would give the study much attention. It would make the news one week and then fade away.

The tide is that strong in the direction of finding easy solutions.

Which is why, for the sake of at least one reader, I suggest that you work with the tide of "finding solutions" to develop your ideas rather than fall back on the role of the devils advocate.

I'm sure your publishers gave up long ago trying to get you to write an advice book, so I won't go there.

But what about an idea book? Rather than creating a guide to self-help, why don't you create an idea memoir about how your ideas and opinions developed over time.

If it's an opinion book, you don't need to supply evidence or do much research, but it would give you the opportunity to more fully develop ideas like the ones I highlighted above.

I also realize that many of your thoughts end in uncertainty, but isn't that the point, that this stuff, meaning life and living, is too complex to boil down to simple solutions for sale.

I feel inspired with a title.

Life Without Self-Help
Ideas for a world addicted to easy solutions.

The book would be about demonstrating how there are no easy self-help answers to success, happiness, and health, but that each of us must find our own path using a mix of reason, emotional development, and luck.

The story would be told either autobiographically or through interviews with others about how the person's ideas about living life developed over time.

Any reference to self-help authors or religion would be removed as the book would be inherently secular and focused on the development of emotional maturity and reason.

Steve Salerno said...

Case: I don't quite know how to respond to this at the moment, except to say that I'm rather overwhelmed, and grateful for your kind thoughts. I know that your intent wasn't necessarily to give me an "attaboy" at a time when you sensed, perhaps, that I could use one--and again, I don't mean to make this suffocatingly personal--but it's nice to know that this blog has had an impact on a few people beyond just "some words on a page in empty space." I never expected SHAMblog to be a moneymaker (and I was vindicated in that judgment), or even, really, a means of promoting SHAM, inasmuch as I reasoned that most people would find the blog only after having read the book. (And I would say that's true for about 90% of our visitors.) Really, I just saw it as a way of continually updating the book: having a much-needed, ongoing debate about the insanely profitable nonsense that has seized hold of our culture.

And more than anything, I wanted this blog to be a forum for serious, cogent thinking, such as you have voiced here. I'm not talking about the part where you praise me, but rather the part where you segue into your own thoughts on developing the blog more fully and/or where I missed a golden opportunity to be more relevant to my readers' lives.

Thanks again, Case; you've been there a long time. (For those of you who may not know, Case is the guy who took the initiative in registering "" in my name and helping me set it up as a link from Blogger. He did this totally on his own, after he got tired of typing the full blogger URL into his hand-held for a year!) I may present more thoughts on all this once my feelings crystallize.

roger o'keeffe from nyc said...

I don't think you were necessarily look for people to talk you out of anything, and I can't even say I've been with blog that long or know it (or you) that well. Still I'm with Case on this one. I was glad to discover Shamblog and I'd hate to see it go. There really isn't very much like it out there, from what I can see. This post is a good example. Read most of the reviews of Tolle's book, and all the glowing tributes to him online, and compare it to the more rational way you approach the topic. Your blog is a cry of sanity in what's fast becoming a mindless wilderness.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Roger. Again, I hasten to add that you're right: I didn't write this post, with its hints about taking down the blog, as a pretext for people to "talk me out of it." Having said that, I also have to say that I do appreciate your support, and especially your comments about the "sanity" of the blog. I don't know that I can say the same for me, personally, but at least with respect to the blog, I've tried to keep the content level high.

The Crack Emcee said...

I, for one, have been saved by you, and you know that. More the book than the blog, but whatever, you did it.

And I've learned a lot from being on the blog, too, though it shows up more in my personal life than online. I've found myself thinking about your approach to life and how I wish, sometimes, I was more like you. But, I am what I am, and I just try to appreciate that people like you are there too.

On the other hand, I like it when you get pissed off and serious. I think "Atta boy, Steve!" though I know it probably bothers you to do so. I think it's the normal reaction to what we're (all) facing from this stuff.

About your - is "despair" too strong a word? - it's fine to think about, but don't you dare quit. Almost everyone I've encountered in this gets to that point eventually. Myself included. I've taken TMR down twice. Partially because of attacks and partially because I felt hopeless in the face of those attacks. Even the doctors fighting stuff like homeopathy get depressed, overwhelmed, beat down. I mean, it's "water" for Christ's sake! They think "How can people be so stupid!" and, in the face of that, wonder what they're doing with their lives. A vacation - even a short "mental" one - gets them back on the horse.

Steve, I'm new at this but, it's pretty obvious to me, that we're on the front lines of the post-60s movement back to rationality. And there's going to be many people against it but they can't win because 1) people like us aren't trying to "win" anything, and 2) when ideas, like Tolle's, are held up to the light they make no sense. The wisdom of your father ("A man doesn't think about such things") makes sense.

You're gonna do what you're gonna do but, seriously, my life would be diminished without you:

Because of this blog, I was able to know your kindness through a very dark time for me, and I would hate to lose that sense of your humanity because, you should know, it truly enriches my own. (Especially when you edit my posts: I always think "good job".)

Now tell me more about this Tolle guy - he's a Oprah nut job I knew nothing about.

Steve Salerno said...

Let me add another personal thank-you for the vote of confidence, Crack. I guess that, while I'm mired in my current state of frustration and self-pity, I should try to console myself with the thought that, if SHAM (the book) didn't have quite the cultural reach I'd hoped in the overall, at least it had a fairly significant effect on the people it did reach. I'm thankful for that. I believe I'm on the side of the angels here.

Trouble is, people like Vitale and Byrne and Tolle and the rest of 'em will say the very same thing--and they'll say it with a big warm grin, as opposed to my perpetually pursed, cynical lips.

The Crack Emcee said...

Yea, but like you said, look at the guy:

He's a troll!

And not only are you/we on the side of the angels but, as Mick & The Boys said, time is on our side:

They can fool some of the people some of the time,...

Believe that.

The Crack Emcee said...

One more thing:

When I got into this, homeopathy was all the rage, but now in England (a mere two years later) it's being wiped from the National Health Service:

It's about baby steps, man. We'll start running soon. I promise.

Anonymous said...

Homeopathy! It's the modern stepchild of the Doctrine of Signatures, left over from the days of alchemy and the toadstone. How, how could it endure?!

Cal said...

As they say, "all good things must end." So if you pull the plug, I can certainly understand. I think it's been about a year since I started perusing the blog, but it has been one of the places I frequent.

If you end it, I hope there is some way it can stay up so that I can read it from the beginning. Because of trying to earn a living, I haven't been to go back and read it from Day One. Maybe it can be left up for a while. (And just indicate that no further comments can be allowed.)♦

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

Its London calling and the mere wiff of you (or whoever it is in you) thinking (or whatever the new word for thinking is) of ending Shamblog is enough to send me into deep psychosis.

Take a break if need be but don't give up the battle of reason - there aren't that many of us on this side.

Personally I read Shamblog everyday and it would be a great loss to my education if it were to cease to exist.


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner, I thank you for the kind words, as I've thanked the others.

Well, I guess this post has turned into (or been perceived as) "Steve's desperate plea for validation," which, I assure you, was not--at all--my intent in writing it. Recently I'd been debating with myself about the ongoing utility and relevance of the blog, and as regular readers know, I often keep you folks up to speed on whatever I'm thinking/doing, pretty much in real time. And I meant what I said at the top of the post itself: that if this blog were to end, Tolle would be the perfect way to go out, because if anyone in our culture embodies the triumph of b.s. over reason, it's him.

But again, I do thank all of you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on SHAMblog. It's nice to hear.

Anonymous said...

This Oprah and Eckhart Tolle duo is a real mind.....scam.

His writings are the opposite to basic Skeptical Thinking and Critical Intelligence. Its about trying to commit Cognitive Suicide. It very sick if you look at it closely, and as you say, for a sane person, its not even possible. You can't really "make" yourself go crazy and have a psychotic break, and you can't stop it either.

Too bad if you can't keep SHAM going. I see SHAM as a subset of the Skeptical Thinking community.

Of course, we have all found out the sad fact that most of the mass public WANTS TO BE FOOLED.
They WANT to believe fairy-stories of magical cures. It seems to be a part of human nature.

So we just gots to keep moving forward, and hopefully over the decades things will improve. But the human mind is not going to change in many generations, or even millenia. We have primitive stone-age brains that do not operate based on facts and evidence. Humans are always looking to the skies for gods.

The human brain-mind is more like an Emotional reactive system. And the masses want their Opium fix.
They want to be conned, sadly.
This is why the con-artists get so cynical, and have no remorse. They start to think those dummies DESERVE it.

So this is why, in m view, the mass public does not want to accept the fact that they are being conned. They want to be conned.
But there is always some hope.
For example, in the Globe & Mail comments section, its almost all negative commetns towards Oprah and that's a good thing.
I think the backlash to this Eckhart Tolle craziness is going to be quite severe, even if just from the Christians! Gotta love that vicious Christian backlash!

Here is a link to the article.

When Oprah came calling, the universe answered

Anonymous said...

Must be hell to be a Western guru, huh? Always on stage, always peaceful and serene, always having to display your gentle side. (In the East, mood swings seem to be more acceptable; they're apparently considered part of the guru's training of his, and I use the pronoun deliberately, disciples.) Thank God for the freedom to be less than perfect, less than enlightened, to be able to express all of ourselves! And thank God to be out of the spotlight, away from the relentless pressure of being watched. I used to wonder why the nobility of the feudal age behaved in such strange and often savage ways, but of course they too were always watched, always measured, literally never alone, much like today's celebrities. I guess that would do it to anybody!

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

I just saw a very interesting documentary on Scientology and its even more interesting that both L R Hubbard & Tolle both had periods of psychosis and both have created a " religion"

Wish us luck - the scientologists are on their way to Britain.


Steve Salerno said...

The Scientologists are coming, the Scientologists are coming!

(I couldn't resist.)

mikecane2008 said...

>>>Fact is, I'm debating whether this will be my final series of posts in the life of SHAMblog.

I don't like hearing that.

Change your mind.

Lin said...


After reading about Oprah's latest book pick, and learning that she'll be conducting an online "class" with Tolle, in March, I sought out the book on Amazon.

I did this SPECIFICALLY to see if you had commented on it, and, lo and behold, your review was there. The review led me back to shamblog (which I've visited before--even e-mailed you once before when "The Secret" was in full swing).

Anyway, THANK YOU for posting this stuff about Tolle. I've always thought the guy was strange.

If you've got to give up shamblog, it'll be a shame, 'cause you consistently put up the umbrella that protects us from the "rain of bullshit".

Whatever you decide, know you've had some appreciative readers!

gregory said...

you should quit, allow new points of view to come into your life... if you have learned one thing, i hope it is this.. that is you look for scams and shams, you will find an endless supply...

might want to look for something else, like soutions perhaps

and of course you can use the mind to work on the mind, because the experiencer is not the mind... read ramana maharshi, if you need a guide...

transcendence of mind is a greaty event in life... will never happen to you, or to anybody addicted to it... there is something more, should be obvious, except fighting that has been your m.o. for a long time... another reason to quit this blog

i admire your intelligence and energy, but it is misused, and with many years left on the planet, to continue growing seems more important than beating the same drum forever

good luck, listen to that inner voice...

Stuart said...

Socrates already noted that true wisdom is understanding what we don't know. We may live for decades with an unexamined assumption of who we are... and then suddenly get the great revelation that it's all just thinking, that we truthfully don't know. Just as the eyes can't see themselves, it's the nature of our existence that we don't know what we are.

I'm guessing that Tolle had such a relevatory moment, in which he was able to shed some long- and deeply-held ideas of "self." And then, as is common, he went about collecting new ideas about what this "I" is. Releasing the old ideas of self is wonderful; creating new ones is less so.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Like gregory said, you are very good at ripping things to shreds.... All these discussions about Tolle here (and elsewhere) are very interesting and a lot of it seems to centre around the fact that he looks weird and has a German accent....:-)
Seriously though, any one person can have great insights. They publish them. Great. They may also publish some stuff that is not so great. Good. They are human. That doesn't take away from the insights they have had. I once picked up this book on Zen when I had one (literally) spare minute and came across this beautiful saying to the effect that the true teacher will not profess himself to be a teacher or even be aware that he is a teacher but the "student" will realise that all the spirituality (for want of a better word) is within him/herself. That is to say we all have our own inner guide. So something/someone puts us in touch with that and teaches us how to let ourselves be guided through the mystery that is life. Look at a flower, listen to a piece of music, have a baby, cook, read a "spiritual" book, talk to the man on the bus, sit next to someone on a bench. Who knows what or who will "teach" us. Does it matter? Do we have to know? Do we need labels? No. The joy lies in the simplicity. See, if I had had a choice I wouldn't have written all this stuff but instead made you a cup of tea, given you a hug, smiled at you in the street or just given you your space....x

Stuart said...

Re the Anony post immediately above (1:16 PM)...

Yeah, it's true that all things are teaching us at every moment. Zen Master Joju (Jp Joshu) was looking into the temple garden one day when he was asked about the fundamental meaning of the Zen tradition. He replied, "The cypress tree in the garden." This response is not for nothing.

All teachings are designed to fix the different kinds of "thinking sickness" we can get. It's like matching a medicine to a disease. It seems that for a lot of people, they'll only pay attention if someone dresses in a fancy costume, sits on a fancy seat, and calls himself a Teacher. If that's what some people need, so be it, but it also seems natural to mature to the point of seeing whatever situation is right in front of you as the True Master.

Names and labels are just names and labels; they have their uses according the situation. Your name doesn't touch who you really are... yet it would be needlessly awkward to try to live life without using your name!

There's no problem with what Tolle does; I'd guess that the medicine he offers is helpful with respect to some particularly thinking-sickness that masses of people have. The thinking-sickness causes suffering, and maybe Tolle's word-medicine helps sometimes. If you're not thinking, though, what's the need for any of these teachings?


Steve Salerno said...

Stuart: I can't let that comment go unmolested (i.e. that Tolle does no harm). Taking the wider view, isn't the false cure worse than no cure at all? And more dangerous? Don't we fine (and sometimes prosecute) major pharmaceutical companies for doing the same thing, bad-drug-wise, that people like Tolle do, mental-(un)health wise?

Stuart said...

Steve Salerno said...
isn't the false cure worse than no cure at all? And more dangerous? Don't we fine (and sometimes prosecute) major pharmaceutical companies for doing the same thing, bad-drug-wise, that people like Tolle do, mental-(un)health wise?

Thanks for your thoughts, Steve.

Generally speaking, pharmaceuticals aren't "false" or "true" cures in themselves. It's more like they help some people with some illnesses/body chemistry, but hurt other people with different ones.

OK, in this metaphor, we're not talking about selling a poison that kills everyone. Most disputed pharmaceuticals aren't like that, I don't think Tolle's teaching is either. For the vast majority of teachings/medicines, it's for the user to decide for himself whether the effects of the product are what he/she wants.

How can you say that anything from Tolle is a "false cure"? That all depends on what the user wants to get from it.

If masses of people read Tolle and like the effect, who am I to call that "false"? I can say that I personally at the moment don't find Tolle's words helpful, but that's relative to my particular situation. I can't declare that to be true of all people in all situations.

It may be true that if, say, a drug helps 90% of the population and hurts 10%, the government will try to control it. That fact doesn't make the government's actions right. The company has an obligation to not lie in how it advertises the drug. Past that, it ought to be the consumer (of drugs or teachings) who makes his own decisions and risk-assessments.


ChloeLovesLife said...

My experience with reading Tolle is this:
My electrolygist recommended I read it while I was in college. I suppose I must have griped about a few too many problems while she worked on me because she highly recommended it as an "answer" to my "problems". She absolutely swore by "The New Earth" and seemingly had no opinions of her own left inside of her. Everything she said was forwarded with "Well, Tolle says...". Over the time she read (and re-read) the book she changed drastically. It seemed like she was a shell of her former self, a "moonie" of sorts and absolutely hypnotized by Tolle's words. I guess I wanted to see what she was talking about because I wound up buying the book (plus I could hardly understand her at a certain point because EVERYTHING she said was in refrence to this man's book).
The book had a very powerful (not necesarily positive) effect on me. It starts off by putting you in a dream-like state (anyone who has read the first several pages knows what I mean) and goes on to tell you what's wrong with you. By some point I felt like such a jerk because I "realized" that I was one (according to Tolle). He does a great job of breaking you down and making you feel pretty awful about yourself (think: all the "ego" talk). I felt quite lost for some time. I remember crying a lot, wondering what I could possibly do to not think the way I'd always thought (by the way, there was nothing wrong with the way I'd always thought!) and how I could stop being the person I always was (nor was there a problem with ME! I was simply having trouble adjusting to graduating college!).
Tolle then goes on to tell you how to fix yourself. Well that's just great. He first makes you feel like a sad sack and then tells you that he knows how to get you to feel better. That very concept is quite ridiculous. It's also ridiculous, though I only realized it later, that you should be without opinions or depleted of energy for certain things (like things you're passionate about!). The whole "ego depletion" thing is not really condusive to people who enjoy being themselves, people who have clever and/or ironic thoughts, people that are fecicious sometimes...

Anyway, it took awhile before I realized that his book did not harbor "the truth" about life and that his book was totally based on his opinions. That's fine. What scares me is the fact that some people believe that this random person knows "the truth". "The New Earth" is an organized collection of well written musings. That's all it is to me anyway.

Anyway, my electrolygist became so obsessed with this man's book that we actually had a small blow-up. She actually told me that I had to get rid of the people in my life that did not read it! That was only a small portion of it... but yea... Tolle is just a quirky, (Oprah endorsed and approved) new-age writer with a lot of fans. That's all he is to me anyway...

Steve Salerno said...

Chloe: Glad you found us. And glad that you love life--assuming your screen name isn't meant ironically, as some are. ;)

The more I hear, the more it occurs to me that the entire New Age is a psycho-spiritual (if there's such a word) narcotic. Is it peaceful to "check your brains at the door"? Sure it is! Facing life for what it truly represents entails pain and worry. That's not to say that life is bad. Not at all; I happen to enjoy life immensely, for the most part. It's just not one big love-fest, and it's certainly not all about me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Gerry said...

This is why you're missing the ball entirely in your criticism..

"Facing life for what it truly represents entails pain and worry."

Facing life.. You suffer from the same delusions the rest of the inmates wrapped up in their precious calculated and egomaniacal lives. As if this matters! "Ohhh look at my precious house, my family, my cars, my job, my reputation, my acceptance by my peers!!" You just. Dont. Get it. Its just a ride fool!

Cos Mic said...


I have read the Tolle book "Power of Now" too, and do think some of the concepts/pointers there are useful - although his bashing of the "pain body" can be disconcerting at times. My simple point is that it is grossly inappropriate to compare it to drug companies selling false drugs. Reasons 1) Enough people have found it useful to buy the book, recommend it to friends and in the process made it an internatinoal bestseller. Dont insult the intelligence of all those people and claim that you have a superior intellect or oral ground to decide what people should have in their lives. 2) If you use the same logic, a lot of things/ideas should be banned for having caused to humanity. For instance, ban patriotism or anyone who spreads patriotic messages because it has killed more people than religion (or comes close). Ban chemistry and science in general becuase it has killed millions of people through weapons technology. Impose fine on all the scientists whose "science" has been overthrown by more modern findings of science. The list can go on....If someone reads a book and finds peace from it, you dont need to interfere and claim that you are superior to those peole and will decide what is good for other people are not. You sound seriously close to so called leaders of religion who issue "fatwa" against "infidels"!!!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog and had a good laugh. I must first compliment your refined, overly-intellectual ego. I won't tell you that you're wrong about Tolle, but I will tell you that your cynicism is beyond grandiose. Mind is one element to existence and that's all Tolle teaches. In a world that has lost its way, Tolle's teachings - and not the man himself - shed light. His words heal. Yours don't. What's the point of life if it isn't love? I recommend that you read Jac O'Keefe's book Born to be Free. Actually, I dare you to.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: Thank you for dropping by. I'm not going to engage you in protracted debate here (not that you'd be interested in same, anyway), but my overarching point is that it's futile to talk about the mind as if it can be neatly separated from anything else. We don't know that the mind has anything to do with behavior--maybe it just narrates it, and the body of evidence pointing towards that grows daily--and if the mind is not driving behavior, then the other options are truly scary. The abandonment of a narrating/contextualizing mind is, quite possibly, the abandonment to Id (to use an antiquated but apt term). Since we seem to be recommending things to each other, let me ask, have you ever seen the 1950s sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet? I invite you to watch it. That is "living in the now."

("Monsters, John... Monsters from the Id...")

Anonymous said...

Maybe not so much "step outside" the mind, as "step back". Maybe we can label 'stepping outside' as paradoxical, but stepping back has to much going for it. Isn't stepping back, being the observer a key element in cognitive therapy and meditation?

Anonymous said...

I say watch the old Peter Sellers movie "Being There". An inbecile being taken for a profoundly insightful financial genius.Sounds familiar.....

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog post after googling the words "Eckhart Tolle Psychotic." My motivation for googling such a term is that I have experienced psychosis myself, interestingly this occured shortly after I started to read Tolle's "A New Earth." Anyway, there were a lot of other factors at play in what led to my brief psychotic episode, however I have to say as someone who has experienced psychosis it is a very faux-spiritual sort of feeling and I have a sneaking suspicion that Tolle's revelation was in fact a result of psychosis. Just thought I'd put that out there, as someone who has been to the so-called "dark side" and recovered.

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Anon. I have long marveled at the fact that once upon a time, people who believed what today's New Agers espouse would be considered schizophrenic or otherwise mentally ill. And now consumers pay vast sums of money to learn how to become mentally ill in that way.

I wish you the best going forward.