Well, it’s a fair question. There are a lot of people reading this blog who’ve never even read his stuff – or even heard his name before coming here.
I decided to write a short piece on A New Earth and why I think it and Tolle are important.
A New Earth is the whole deal, an exhaustive and gripping exposition of Tolle's entire world-view. In it he writes about society, relationships, and takes it right down to an individual level. But then of course, there’s a lot of writers who’ve done that.
There’s scalability to his thought – it sheds light on things from the largest scale to the smallest scale. But then of course, there are a lot of writers who’ve done that.
It's potency - and its revolutionary force is in its clarity, its coherence, and its extreme level of accessibility.
Take philosophy. Pick up any philosophy book today and you find a mass of dense and unreadable prose. I remember to this day the first phrase I read out of a work of academic philosophy. It was by a guy called Bernard Williams, I think.
The phrase was “the deontological nature of non-cognitive meta-ethics.”
Sheesh. I mean, that's not just badly accessible. It's like someone has sat down and invented words to make it less accessible, intentionally. We're talking extreme levels of inaccessibility.
Ironically, this is not far from the truth.
So yeah, I see philosophy, certainly in it’s present academic form, as a dead end. What about self-help? Isn’t self help what Tolle does?
Well, not really. Certainly not in the conventional sense. There’s a deep shift in priorities that Tolle has instigated and I’ll go through it now.
You see, old-school dedicated solely to helping people feel better about themselves and succeed. It does this at the expense of everything else – including the truth.
This is taken to an extreme in NLP-based self-help like that of Tony Robbins where you’re actually trained to program your mind and beliefs in a way that will aid your financial and personal success.
The issue is this - buying into and developing useful fictions spun to make you feel better, do better or perform better will always have a nasty flipside. And it’s this – your life is based on a lie. And that’s not ‘bad’ in some abstract sense.
If your life is given direction and motivation by fiction, sooner or later reality’s going to come smack you in the face to remind you who’s in charge.
I mean, I’ve noticed this in a pretty extreme way over and over in my life. Reality doesn’t give a fuck what you tell yourself. If your life is based on convenient fictions, you will end up deeply and profoundly damaged in ways that you never saw coming.
This isn’t some vague karmic law. This is obviously what will occur. If you’re walking on a path by a cliff face, you don’t stare at the map Tony Robbins drew for you, you stare at the fucking path.
So although many think of and speak of Eckhart Tolle as a self-help teacher, there is a crucial shift from men like Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy to guys like Eckhart Tolle
The former see truth as a tool on the path to happiness. The latter sees happiness as an incidental byproduct of the truth.
That is the difference between what you could call Self-Help and Self Help 2.0 – and it’s crucial. If you set happiness and success as more important than truth, your happiness and success will inevitably be built on fiction.
If you set truth above happiness and success, happiness and success will come as byproducts, and they will be far deeper entrenched than the frantic, manic successes of the first stripe.
And of course the only universal truth is that infinite, universally intelligent oneness that lies beyond and before the prison of labels and judgements in which we live.
The core of Self-Help 2.0 is exactly that the man said way back in the day - Seek only the kingdom of heaven, and all these things will be added to you.
This emphasis on truth is also the hidden meaning of Christ’s parable of the wise man who builds his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who builds his house upon the sand. He’s not talking about architecture, nor is he talking about dogmatically following the static rules of religion.
He’s talking about truth being the only foundation – and a relationship with the infinite intelligence and compassion of the universe (or as he put it God the Father) as the only truth.
Self Help 2.0 is driven, first and foremost, by that truth.
Now, is that truth contained in religions?
Yes, obviously. It’s all they’re about. But in spiritual traditions you find – in every religion, not just Christianity – a rigid hierarchy and stark divisions of the world into good and evil.
Every religion has this – be it Christianity, Judaism and Islam (the good/evil divide), Buddhism, Zen (the enlightened/unenlightened divide), Hinduism (the holy/unholy divide) – the list goes on.
In religion you also often find the deepest truths imbedded in the most ludicrious and wacked out dogmas.
It’s interesting that many of the Christians I know with the deepest and most profound grasp on the human condition are also Creationists.
Many of the commentaries on the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita likewise fuse extreme levels of spiritual insight with some really wacky shit about personal immortality (Taoism) and reincarnation (Hinduism).
Of course in all these cases the original texts from which the traditions are derived are, in their unadorned and unanalyzed nakedness, shining works of immense power and insight.
But there is something about spirituality in general that leads to the wackiest, craziest beliefs that are so weird as to boggle the mind.
I call it the Lord Xenu effect.
The point is that Tolle's thought is pure and clear as polished crystal. This has two effects.
Firstly his message has clarity to it that I've never encountered anywhere else.
Secondly, because he does not get distracted or pulled away by weird dogmas, he penetrates to the very deepest levels of philosophy and psychology.
The reason that Tolle is seen as a 'spiritual teacher' is that modern philosophy is in a very bad way.
It's a bunch of men (and some women who should know better) arguing with each other over who is the cleverest.
To work out who is the cleverest, they create mind-warping puzzles from the logical structure of language.
They solve these self-imposed puzzles to prove the superiority of their analytical capabilities.
This is not an insult. This is actually what it really is, in real life. Really.
This is so deeply entrenched that the philosophical estabishment has yet to notice that a guy who's insight rivals Socrates. A man who has produced a psychological map of such stunning accuracy that it makes Freud's best work look like it was written in crayon.
It seems like I'm heaping crazy levels of praise on the man - in a way this is true. But in another way, it's less a measure of how insightful Tolle is, and more a measure of how far we've fallen. All he’s doing is looking at the human condition in himself and others and describing, in simple terms, what he sees.
But that’s where his strength is. You see, that’s all philosophy is at the end of the day – say what you see. No argument is or can be involved. It’s perverse to think of arguments having any place in philosophy at all, and I’ll tell you why:
If you take philosophy as the examination of the human condition – wait a minute. We all fucking have one. You, unless you are an alien scanning these words from the mothership, have one. If someone raises a point about the human condition, check your own to see if it’s true.
Arguing in abstract terms about the human condition is like arguing in abstract terms about the colour of the clothes you’re actually wearing at this very second. Just look at your damn clothes, and stop being so pissy.
Our philosophical establishment is exactly that - an establishment. It seems to serve no other purpose than the deepening of entrenched argumentative positions.
I think that everyone who calls themselves a philosopher should have yearly reviews in front of a bunch of 5 year old children. If they can’t get those kids understanding what they’re talking about and nodding along, they should be immediately fired and made to get a real job.
It would also stop the death of the thousands of trees that go to make the journals where philosophers bicker with each other over things they have invented in a language no-one else speaks.
I cannot overemphasize how total the destruction of genuine wisdom and insight has been in the modern world of academic philosophy.
Tolle’s A New Earth is a different kind of animal. It doesn't rise from inside the arguments that have been raging for (literally) millennia. It rises from a place so deep that the only thing many people can compare it to is a religion.
It contains a vision of the world that is stunningly accurate and has massive explanatory power.
It contains a psychological map of the human condition that is so accurate as to provide a total explanation for the human animal's entire emotional range.
It contains a social philosophy so deep that it accounts for all human dysfunction, and proposes a way to resolve it which can be empirically tested by the individual (and is being, by this individual, with potent results).
It proposes a totally bloodless revolution which has the capacity to change the world without a single act of violence.
But what is perhaps more miraculous than any of these things, Tolle has effectively proven the existence of God.
He proves the existence of God by providing the reader with direct links with the realm of the infinite.
Let's be frank about this - philosophers have been trying to write this book since philosophy began. It's the wall I've been smacking my head against since I was 17. Tolle just did it.
In centuries to come his name will be spoken of as the man who both ended and began the philosophical project.
He ended the philosophical project as we know it by transcending the arguments and undercutting the structures that philosophy has rested on and been trapped in since records began in Ancient Greece.
He began the philosophical project by changing it from an intellectual pursuit to a real voyage of discovery. He did this because his work provides gateways into a metaphysical realm that is not some hocus-pocus bullshit, but is as real as the ground beneath your feet and immediately accessible.
He ended argument over the existence of God by providing direct experience to the dimension of the divine to the individual.
Don't get me wrong, society has yet to catch up. But it will. It has to. We're shit out of time.