Eckhart Tolle (born Ulrich Leonard Tölle on February 16, 1948) is a German-born resident of Canada, best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. In 2011, he was listed by the Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world. In 2008, a New York Times writer called Tolle “the most popular spiritual author in the United States”.
Tolle has said that he was depressed for much of his life until he underwent, at age 29, an “inner transformation”. He then spent several years wandering and unemployed “in a state of deep bliss” before becoming a spiritual teacher. Later, he moved to North America where he began writing his first book, The Power of Now, which was published in 1997 and reached the New York Times Best Seller lists in 2000.
The Power of Now and A New Earth sold an estimated three million and five million copies respectively in North America by 2009. In 2008, approximately 35 million people participated in a series of 10 live webinars with Tolle and television talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Tolle is not identified with any particular religion, but he has been influenced by a wide range of spiritual works. He has lived in Vancouver, Canada since 1995.
Born Ulrich Leonard Tölle in Lünen, a small town located north of Dortmund in the Ruhr Valley, Germany in 1948, Tolle describes his childhood as unhappy, particularly his early childhood in Germany. His parents fought and eventually separated, and he felt alienated from a hostile school environment. While playing in buildings destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II, Tolle felt depressed by his experience of “pain in the energy field of the country”. At the age of 13, he moved to Spain to live with his father. Tolle’s father did not insist that his son attend high school, so Tolle elected to study literature, astronomy and languages at home.
At the age of 15, Tolle read several books written by the German mystic Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, also known as Bô Yin Râ. Tolle has said he responded “very deeply” to those books. At the age of 19, about 10 years before his “inner transformation”, Tolle moved to England and for three years taught German and Spanish at a London school for language studies.Troubled by “depression, anxiety and fear”, he began “searching for answers” in his life.
In his early twenties, Tolle decided to pursue his search by studying philosophy, psychology, and literature, and enrolled in the University of London. After graduating, he was offered a scholarship to do postgraduate research at Cambridge University, which he began in 1977, and from which he dropped out soon after. One night in 1977, at the age of 29, after having suffered from long periods of suicidal depression, Tolle says he experienced an “inner transformation”. That night he awakened from his sleep, suffering from feelings of depression that were “almost unbearable,” but then experienced a life-changing epiphany. Recounting the experience, Tolle says,
“I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.”
Tolle recalls going out for a walk in London the next morning, and finding that “everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic.” The feeling continued, and he began to feel a strong underlying sense of peace in any situation. Tolle stopped studying for his doctorate, and for a period of about two years after this he spent much of his time sitting, “in a state of deep bliss,” on park benches in Russell Square, Central London, “watching the world go by.” He stayed with friends, in a Buddhist monastery, or otherwise slept rough on Hampstead Heath. His family thought him “irresponsible, even insane.” Tolle changed his first name from Ulrich to Eckhart; by some reports this was in homage to the German philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart. A 2012 interview article states that he saw the name Eckhart on one of a pile of books in a dream, and knew he had written the book; soon after in real life he ran into a psychic friend who called him Eckhart out of nowhere, so Tolle changed his name.
After this period, former Cambridge students and people he had met by chance began to ask Tolle about his beliefs. He began working as a counselor and spiritual teacher. Students continued to come to him over the next five years. He relocated to Glastonbury, a major centre of alternative living. In 1995, after having visited the West Coast of North America several times, he settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he met his wife to be, Kim Eng.
Tolle’s first book, The Power of Now, was first published in 1997 by Namaste Publishing. Only 3000 copies were published of the first edition. Tolle has stated, “I would personally deliver a few copies every week to some small bookstores in Vancouver … Friends helped by placing copies of the book in spiritual bookstores farther afield”. The book was republished on a large scale by New World Library in 1999. In 2000, Oprah Winfrey recommended it in her magazine, O. In August 2000 it reached the New York Times Best Seller list for Hardcover Advice. After two more years, it was number one on that list. By 2008, the book had been translated from English into 33 languages; since then, it has been translated into Arabic. Tolle published his second book, Stillness Speaks, in 2003. In July 2011, The Power of Now appeared on the list for the 10 best selling Paperback Advice books for the 102nd time.
In 2005, Tolle published his third book, A New Earth, which assumed the number one position on the New York Times Best Seller list several times between March and September 2008. By the end of 2008, it reached the list for the 46th time. The high sales of A New Earth in that year followed its selection by Oprah Winfrey for her book club in January. In the four weeks following the announcement, 3.5 million copies of the book were shipped.Tolle partnered with her to produce a series of webinar sessions beginning in May 2008.The weekly webinar sessions included discussions between Tolle and Winfrey, silent meditations, and questions from viewers via Skype. Each webinar focused on a specific chapter of A New Earth. The third webinar attracted more than 11 million viewers.
Tolle formed a company to sell products related to his teachings called Eckhart Teachings. He created a website called Eckhart Tolle TV, with streaming video of monthly group meditations and other videos. He gives speeches and workshops in English and occasionally in German or Spanish. He also travels for various speaking engagements, such as seminars and retreats. In a 2003 interview with the Telegraph Magazine, Tolle indicated that he had no intention of creating “a heavy commercial structure”, nor of setting up an ashram or centre. He believes one “could develop organically” and said “one needs to be careful that the organization doesn’t become self-serving”.
In June 2009, Tolle and Jim Carrey headlined the first conference of the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment, or GATE, where both are Honorary Founders. In September, he appeared with the Dalai Lama and other speakers at the Vancouver Peace Summit. His most recent book, Guardians of Being, is a picture book illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the comic strip Mutts.
Tolle writes in the introduction to his second book, Stillness Speaks:
“A true spiritual teacher does not have anything to teach in the conventional sense of the word, does not have anything to give or add to you, such as new information, beliefs, or rules of conduct. The only function of such a teacher is to help you remove that which separates you from the truth … The words are no more than signposts.”
Tolle says that his book, The Power of Now, is “a restatement for our time of that one timeless spiritual teaching, the essence of all religions”. He writes that religions “have become so overlaid with extraneous matter that their spiritual substance has become almost completely obscured”, that they have become “to a large extent … divisive rather than unifying forces” and become “themselves part of the insanity”.
Tolle writes that “the most significant thing that can happen to a human being the separation process of thinking and awareness” and that awareness is “the space in which thoughts exist”. Tolle says that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it”.
According to Tolle’s official website, “at the core of Tolle’s teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution. An essential aspect of this awakening consists in transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite not only for personal happiness but also for the ending of violent conflict endemic on our planet”.
In his book A New Earth, Tolle describes a major aspect of the human dysfunction as “ego” or an “illusory sense of self” based on unconscious identification with one’s memories and thoughts, and another major aspect he calls “pain-body” or “an accumulation of old emotional pain”.
Tolle often talks about the relevance of figures in intellectual or popular culture. In A New Earth, he quotes Descartes, Sartre, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Albert Einstein. He has spoken of movies such as Groundhog Day, American Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, Gran Torino, Titanic, Avatar, Being There, and Forrest Gump, and musicians such as Mozart, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He arranged an album of music in 2008 entitled Music to Quiet the Mind including work composed by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and The Beatles, and music by contemporary artists such as Deva Premal, Jeff Johnson, and Steve Roach.
According to a 2009 article in the New York Times, Tolle is “not identified with any religion, but uses teachings from Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism and the Bible, Tolle has said: “I feel actually that the work I do is a coming together of the teaching ‘stream’, if you want to call it that, of [Jiddu] Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi.” Tolle himself has mentioned texts such as the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu scriptures, the Buddhist scriptures, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and A Course in Miracles; he has mentioned various individuals such as Zoroaster, Lao Tzu, Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Jesus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Hafiz, Rinzai Gigen, Ralph Waldo Emerson; and he has emphasized the mystical schools within religions such as Gnosticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Hasidism and Kabbala in Judaism, Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, and Zen and Dzogchen in Buddhism. He has met and spoken with Barry Long and Don Miguel Ruiz, and he wrote a foreword for The Diamond in Your Pocket by Gangaji.
In 2008, an article in the New York Times referred to Tolle as “the most popular spiritual author in the [United States]”. In 2011, the Watkins Review put him at number 1 in a list of “The 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People”. By 2009, total sales of The Power of Now and A New Earth in North America had been estimated at three million and five million copies respectively, but of course those figures have only grown significantly in the succeeding years.
In 2008 The Independent noted that “Tolle does have fans in academic, even Christian, circles”. Theologian Andrew Ryder wrote that “Tolle’s writing is based on his own experience and personal reflection. This makes his approach to the challenge of living in the present moment both practical and fresh” even though “he may not use the language of traditional Christian spirituality”. Stafford Betty finds common ground between Tolle’s worldview and that of Christian mystics. He notes that “one of the key elements in Tolle’s teaching is that deep within the mind is absolute stillness in which one can experience ‘the joy of Being'”. Betty says that such a view is comparable to the view of contemporary Catholic monk Thomas Keating who wrote that “We rarely think of the air we breathe, yet it is in us and around us all the time. In similar fashion, the presence of God penetrates us, is all around us, is always embracing us, and it is delightful”. Betty also says that “for Mr. Tolle, God is in the world in a more radical way than for the Christian” and that Tolle’s theology “is only a footnote to the therapy he holds out to his audience”.
Roman Catholic priest and theologian Richard Rohr credits Tolle for helping to reintroduce ancient Christian mysticism to modern Christians: “Tolle is, in fact, rather brilliantly bringing to our awareness the older tradition … [which is] both the ground and the process for breaking through to the theological contemplation of God, and acquired contemplation of Jesus, the Gospels, and all spiritual things. He is teaching process, not doctrine or dogma. He is teaching how to see and be present, not what you should see when you are present. Tolle is our friend, and not an enemy of the Gospel. There should be no conflict for a mature Christian.”
Eckhart Tolle’s website: https://www.eckharttolle.com/
An extensive interview with Eckhart Tolle by Sounds True:
Some excerpts from his writings:
“People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”
“…the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.”
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.”
“Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.”
“Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.”
“Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.”
“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”
“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.”
“Love is a state of Being. Your love is not outside; it is deep within you. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you.”
“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.”
“To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”
“There is a fine balance between honoring the past and losing yourself in it. For example, you can acknowledge and learn from mistakes you made, and then move on and refocus on the now. It is called forgiving yourself.”
“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”
“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”
“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.”
Defining yourself through thought is limiting yourself.”
“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
“Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let it go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity as a depressed, angry or hard-done by person. You will then ignore, deny or sabotage the positive in your life. This is a common phenomenon. It is also insane.”
“On a deeper level you are already complete. When you realize that, there is a joyous energy behind what you do.”
“To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation.”
“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”
“Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not ‘yours,’ not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you.”
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”
“A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego with its image-making and self-seeking. In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever.”
“To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly. Things, people, or conditions that you thought you needed for your happiness now come to you with no struggle or effort on your part, and you are free to enjoy and appreciate them – while they last. All those things, of course, will still pass away, cycles will come and go, but with dependency gone there is no fear of loss anymore. Life flows with ease.”
“What you react to in others, you strengthen in yourself.”
“Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”
“Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power if within, and it is available to you now.”
“Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you are addicted to – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain.”
“Love is not selective, just as the light of the sun is not selective. It does not make one person special. It is not exclusive. Exclusivity is not the love of God but the “love” of ego. However, the intensity with which true love is felt can vary. There may be one person who reflects your love back to you more clearly and more intensely than others, and if that person feels the same toward you, it can be said that you are in a love relationship with him or her. The bond that connects you with that person is the same bond that connects you with the person sitting next to you on a bus, or with a bird, a tree, a flower. Only the degree of intensity with which it is felt differs.”
“Authentic human interactions become impossible when you lose yourself in a role.”
“Living up to an image that you have of yourself or that other people have of you is inauthentic living.”
“Man made God in his own image…”
“Don’t Seek Happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.”
“Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace? Yes. Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.”
“For what you do to others, you do to yourself.”
“Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.”
“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.”
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.”
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
“Humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. … If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction.”
There are many Eckhart Tolle videos are available on YouTube. Here is a sampling: