Although Eckhart Tolle is arousing great interest today, many think he is a novelty, New Age, or even non-religious. The process—and that is what it is—that he is teaching, can be traced through the Greek and Latin traditions of contemplation, the apophatic tradition in particular, and the long history of what was sometimes called "The Sacrament of the Present Moment" (Brother Lawrence, OCD, Francisco de Osuna, OFM, Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J.).
The mystical tradition inside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism often divided contemplation into two types: infused or natural contemplation, and acquired contemplation. Evelyn Underhill, the brilliant historian of mysticism sees three forms of contemplation: 1) Mystical Contemplation of the Natural World, 2) Metaphysical Contemplation of the World of Being and Consciousness, 3) Theological Contemplation of the World of God.
After the oppositional mind that set in place during and after the Reformation of the 16th century, and after the Enlightenment of the 17th-18th centuries, this ancient tradition was largely lost, except among individuals. We lost the older Tradition of "praying beyond words" as the entire Western and Eastern Churches became quite preoccupied with words and proving words to be true or false. This is the only period that Protestantism and Evangelicals have ever known. So for at least 400 years, we have had neither an understanding of infused nor acquired contemplation! It is such foreign terrain to almost all Protestants, and most Catholics and Orthodox that they immediately think it is heresy or even pagan, when in fact, it is the solid tradition of the first 1400 years of Christianity! (Which I will try to document in my next book, The Third Eye).
Tolle is, in fact, rather brilliantly bringing to our awareness the older tradition of both "infused" or "natural contemplation," and the two first types in Underhill's listing. These are both the ground and the process for breaking through to 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. "Anyone who is not against us, is for us," as Jesus said, and he also said, "Fear profits nothing.”
What Tolle Is Not:
1. Eckhart Tolle is not a Christian theologian or teacher.
2. He is not teaching Christian contemplative prayer or Christian prayer at all.
3. He is not teaching any dogmas or doctrines as such.
4. He is not presuming or teaching that there is a personal/relational God (but neither is he denying it).
5. He is not a proponent of the social, communitarian nature of religion.
What Tolle is Doing:
1. Eckhart Tolle is teaching a form of natural mysticism or contemplative practice.
2. He is teaching a morality and asceticism of recognizing and letting go of "the self that has to die" (Matthew 16:25), which he calls ego and Jesus calls the "grain of wheat" (John 12:24) ; so that another self can be born, which he would call "consciousness" and we would call the person born again in Christ, or something similar.
3. He is giving us some practices (Similar to how John Wesley gave "methods" or Ignatius gave "exercises") whereby we can be present to the grace of the moment and stop the "passions," the "egocentric mind," or the "prideful self" which keeps us from true goodness (or God, as we would call it). Each tradition uses different language for what is to be overcome, but it is always some form of "un-love" and selfishness (which he calls ego). TOLLE IS NOT ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE ANYTHING. HE IS ASKING YOU TO TRY SOMETHING! You will know if it is true, if you try it, and you will not know if it is true or false, if you don't try it. No point in arguing it theoretically or in the abstract.
4. He does assume and imply a worldview that is foreign to many, if not most Christians. For Tolle, Being, Consciousness, God, Reality are all the same thing, which is not all bad, when you come to think of it. Of course, his very point is that you cannot think of it at all, you can only realize it. I would not call him pantheistic (all things are God) as much as panentheistic (God is IN all things).
5. His brilliant understanding of the "pain body," as he calls it, is actually very close to the Catholic notion of Original Sin, and does give a corporate, communitarian, mystical understanding to religion. We are all in this together, and share one another's pain. I'm not sure he makes clear how we share one another' joy, except that he tends to create very "low maintenance" people who can relax and enjoy life.
In Tolle's world, Jesus is not central. However, he is a beloved teacher, who does it perfectly right himself. "Redemption," as we understand it, is not necessary beyond letting go of our own fears, negativity, and oppositional energy. He might understand reality itself as gracious. We would localize that grace in and through Jesus, as the "Sacrament" of all of Creation.
Although Tolle is not a Christian teacher, we must not assume that makes him an anti-Christian teacher. Today we need whatever methods or help we can receive to allow the Christian message to take us to a deeper level of transformation. Our history, and our guidance of Western history, shows this has clearly not been happening on any broad scale. This is an opportunity for us to understand our own message at deeper levels. It would be a shame if we required him to speak our language and vocabulary before we could critically hear what he is saying—that is true and helpful to our own message.
What if John's Gospel had refused to use the word "Logos" which was a term directly taken from Platonist philosophy? What if Paul had kept the limited vocabulary and categories of Judaism when he preached in Rome and Athens? What if Thomas Aquinas had not written his Summa because it was a dialogue with Aristotelian philosophy? Would they have had any success as evangelists?
Admittedly, this will be much harder for those Christians who emerged after the 16th century when the older contemplative tradition was no longer taught, or understood even by the older Tradition. Catholics and Orthodox simply have the trustful advantage of apophatic saints like Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Dionysius the Areopogite, Bonaventure, Francisco de Osuna, Meister Eckhart (whose name Mr. Tolle chose when he recognized his gift as a spiritual teacher!), the Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, and Jean Pierre de Caussade.
Unfortunately, most of Western Christianity has understood Jesus apart from the eternal Trinitarian life and the Pre-Existent Cosmic Christ that is presented in Colossians 1:15-20 or Ephesians 1:8-11. Here "The Son" is at work in the universe from the very beginning and everywhere, and not just during and after Calvary (which Protestantism has tended to exclusively concentrate on). Remember, both Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure said "Deus est Ens," God is Being Itself. This is not new or dangerous teaching, but if ones denominational tradition has no tradition of philosophical theology, or no tradition of the pre-existent Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity inherent in the very pattern of creation, then I admit that Eckhart Tolle will be quite foreign terrain. That does not make him wrong.
I have learned to join with Peter, who said after much resistance, "God has made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean" (Acts 10:28), and I am willing to hear truth today wherever it comes from, as long as it does not compromise the Gospel. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "If it is true, then it is from the Holy Spirit."
I must join with Paul who in preaching to the secular Athenians, said "God is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and have our very being" (Acts 17:28). That is an excellent foundation for trusting Tolle's natural mysticism. We are also preaching to a largely secular world, and must find a language that they can understand and draw from, as Paul did, and not insist that they learn our vocabulary before we can even talk to them or hear them. How else can we ever be "all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:22) or dare to think that we can "preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:16)?
Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to lean into life. With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we're asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew. Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous and challenging art forms on earth. Each of us is by turns a novice and a master—until the next difficulty or joy undoes us.
In truth, listening is the first step to peace. When we dare to quiet our minds and all the thoughts we inherit, the differences between us move back, and the things we have in common move forward. When we dare to quiet the patterns of our past, everything starts to reveal its kinship and share its aliveness. And though we can always learn from others, listening is not a shortcut, but a way to embody the one life we're given, a way to personalize the practice of being human.
In real ways, we're invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening with an open heart.
Yet how do we inhabit these connections and find our way in the world? By listening our way into lifelong friendships with everything larger than us, with our life of experience and with each other.
Our friendship with everything larger than us opens us to the wisdom of Source. This is the work of being. Our friendship with experience opens us to the wisdom of life on earth. This is the work of being human. And our friendship with each other opens us to the wisdom of care. This is the work of love. We need to stay loyal to these three friendships if we have any hope of living an awakened life. These three friendships—the work of being, the work of being human and the work of love—frame the journey.
In a daily way, listening is being present enough to hear the One in the many and the many in the One. Listening is an animating process by which we feel and understand the moment we are in, repeatedly connecting the inner world with the world around us, letting one inform the other.
All of this helps us hear who we are because our identity and the reach of our gifts can only be known in relationship. The wave would not exist if not for the reach of the ocean that lifts it, and the mountain would not exist if not for the steadfastness of the earth that supports it. Listening helps us discover our relationship to all that supports us in life. Listening helps us find our place as a living part in a living Universe. And each moment is a new place to start, no matter how overwhelmed we might feel. For the living Universe can be entered at any time by listening to our inmost self. This begins by meeting ourselves and opening our minds to silence. It helps to think of silence as the connective tissue for all life. By listening to silence, we can be nourished by everything that is larger than us.
It is giving our complete attention to the silence that holds our self that awakens us to both the soul's calling and the call of the soul. While the soul's calling is the work we are born to do, the call of the soul is the irrepressible yearning to experience aliveness. The center of our aliveness doesn't care what we achieve or accomplish, only that we stay close to the pulse of what it means to be alive. In doing this, we stay close to the energy of all life.
The deeper we look at listening, the more we find that it has to do with being present, because a commitment to being fully present enables us to listen more to others, to their dreams and pain, to the retelling of their stories. It deepens our compassion. And listening to the history of our heart allows us to hear and feel the sweet ache of being alive.
Each of these ways of listening—to our inmost self, to the silence that joins everything, to the soul's calling for meaningful work, to the call of the soul to simply be alive, to the complete presence of others that holding nothing back opens in us, and to the tug of life and its sweet ache of constant connection—is a practice that deepens our understanding of who we are and of the precious life we're given in our time on earth.
---“Yin Yang Eye” by Nina Kuriloff
The most fundamental essential philosophies behind Oriental history, culture, religion, government and business is Yin Yang theory. This is one of the oldest cosmologies in all of human thinking. People have been using this understanding of life for over 5000 years. We don’t know its true historical timeline as archeological evidence can document only around 5000 years at present. Yin Yang theory works with the premise that all of life stems from a point of perfect balance. On either side of that balance you have the left and the right, the wet and the dry, the night and the day, the female and the male, the negative and the positive, multi-faceted focused, single goal focused, etc. According to this theory, everything that you can think of can be placed somewhere on the yin or yang aspect to the line. Behavior, time of day, seasons of the year, kinds of food, colors, everything! Yin is the capacity to be receptive. Yang is the capacity to be creative. Yin/Yang is the concept of duality. Yin and Yang are compliments and opposites in life. This is a vast topic and I am only touching upon it here. If you wish to learn more about Yin and Yang energy and how they influence people and their relationships, consider reading Passion Play, a book that I wrote on the subject.
Women’s bodies are more Yin and men’s bodies are more yang. Women get unhealthy when they are not good at being receptive, because they are not utilizing their primary energetic trait, which is receptivity. Men become unhealthy when they do not utilize their gifts of contribution and creativity, which are their primary energetic traits.
When a woman is spending most of her life force, her vitality and time, giving to others, she is going to end up sick, weak, unhappy and, eventually, unproductive. Yin energy moves from the outside in towards the self. Mothering, which takes up decades of our adult lives, is, in large part, about contribution. It’s about giving in creative, structured ways. These are more Yang oriented activities. They are not about receiving. From my medical perspective, it is imperative that a woman put herself in situations that allow her to receive support from others during her mothering years. She needs loving kindness, she needs others to do favors and tasks for her, she needs to receive praise for what she does. She needs to be taken care of if she is going to be good at taking care of others. If there is no balance, if a woman becomes a chronic giver, or as I call her, a giveaholic (pronounced give-a-holic as in alcoholic with the addiction being to self sacrifice), her body will break down and she will become more masculine. Her relationships will suffer, especially her relationship to a man who needs to be more masculine than she is. Her spirit will suffer, her kids will not get the benefit of learning about healthy femininity and she will feel like she is “loosing herself”. This is happening to so many women.
When a man is “self oriented” rather than “other oriented”, when he puts emphasis what is given to him rather than on what he contributes to others, when he is silent and avoiding of his woman’s aggressiveness, “wimping out”, so to speak, he is not utilizing his primary strength. Yang energy moves from the self outward in direct, goal oriented ways. When a man behaves in a childlike way, (women often call their husbands the “other” child) when he doesn’t take a stand for his creativity, his vision, his beliefs or his drives, he sacrifices his yang nature, his greatest truth. Unfortunately, men are given very mixed messages by women who want both a strong hero and a girlfriend-like partner to chat and vent with. Men have been labeled brutish in their sexuality and lack of emotional expression but are also being criticized for expressing weakness or emotionally vulnerable. Self sacrifice and accomplishment are good for men and they would be wise to devote themselves to pursuits’ that enable them to give and to feel the joy of surmounting challenges in reference to giving. Men need to know they have impact, influence and positive effect on others. They need to leave their mark, to have made a difference. Too many men do not recognize the value of behaving in inherently masculine ways. The more feminine they become, the sicker their bodies and the weaker their sprits. The more they execute and complete with success, the better for everyone.
Learning to live within your foundational strengths will allow for greater physical health, deeper intimacy and more pleasant relationships!