Tolle makes an amazing statement when he says that "at the heart of the new consciousness lies the transcendence of thought, the newfound ability of rising above thought" and we will no longer "derive [your] identity" from the "incessant stream of thinking" (21).
And yet, what is this but a thought?! What is this whole book, but words and thinking? He also downgrades words to mere sounds (27), but of course, his book is in words! This is reminiscent of Neale Donald Walsch in Conversations With God, book one, in which he said much the same thing.
Tolle asserts that paranoid schizophrenia "is essentially an exaggerated form of ego" (118-119). This will certainly come as a surprise to those who suffer from this illness, to those who care for them, and to the medical and psychiatric community. It is actually a cruel thing to say, especially in light of the fact that those who have this mental disease suffer horribly, and it is not in their control.
Tolle criticizes the idea that anyone can think he is right, because being right means someone else is wrong. He states that "Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority [...]" (67). So one must wonder, does Tolle think that what he is teaching in this book is right? If he doesn't think it's right, why teach it? What is true for us should be true for him. If he does think he is right, isn't he being morally superior? Should we not ever think we are right about anything?
Tolle understands what many of humanity's problems are: selfishness, fear, hatred, insecurity, anxiety, wanting control, jealousy, greed, etc. However, he attributes this to the ego, and since we identify with form, roles, and structures, and with the ego as who we are, we fall into these traps of negative reactions. If we only recognize that we are not the ego, that we are pure formless "Being," then we can "awaken" and operate from "Presence."
Tolle discusses what he calls the "pain-body," a term for the baggage of pain, disappointments, hurts, insecurities, unrealized hopes, etc. that we carry around. Many people will relate to this, but Tolle's solution will lead them astray. The way to free ourselves from this, Tolle instructs, is to not identify with it, because we are not the pain-body, it is a "false self"(181). Identifying with the pain-body turns it into ego, and we start thinking this is who we are. Once we realize that we are not the ego and not the pain-body, "transmutation begins" into "Presence" (180, 182, 183). More boldly, after quoting from the Hindu Upanishads, Tolle declares: "God, the scripture is saying, is formless consciousness and the essence of who you are" (219).
Tolle's use of the term "Presence" is interesting in light of the fact that Eric Butterworth's site (the Unity minister whose book impacted Oprah) has this statement: "The whole activity of God is present as a Presence, and is experienced as a creative flow. The whole Universe is concentrated at the point where you are. More than this, you are the Universe expressing as you. You are its living enterprise" (http://ericbutterworth.com/html/logo.html). Tolle articulates this idea in his book as well. This also explains why Oprah is so comfortable with Tolle's views.
One of the ways to transcend identity with ego and the false self is to "let go of thought", because "Thinking isolates a situation or event and calls it good or bad" (194-96). Tolle also instructs the reader to focus on the present moment, the "Now," which is "the end of the ego" (200-201). In fact, Tolle posits that there is no real time, only an illusion of it (205). When we "awaken within the dream" and see who we really are, "This is the new earth" (210).
Tolle's depiction of the ego could be equated to the Buddhist concept of self, which is believed to be a temporary construct resulting from feelings, bodily sensation, memories, and thought. The cessation of identification with the ego and pain-body are principles of Buddhist detachment, a practice that eventually allows one to realize the self is not their true identiy. Believing that thinking is a barrier to the grasping of true reality is also a Buddhist concept. Buddhist meditation is practiced to stop the thinking and to go beyond judgment of good and bad. And Tolle's "Being" could be the parallel to the Buddha nature, which is the ultimate and only reality in Buddhism.
Tolle quotes many Zen Buddhists, and even uses the Buddhist terms satori (enlightenment) and "sentient beings." His statement "Nonresistance, nonjudgment, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living" (225) could be lifted from a book on Buddhism. Nonjudgment and nonattachment are elements of detachment, considered an essential part of realization of reality. There is indisputably a strong Buddhist worldview in this book, especially Zen.
Tolle becomes increasingly Buddhist in the book, especially when he gives advice on breathing in Chapter 8. He says, "Being aware of your breathing takes attention away from thinking and creates space" (244). This is related to Buddhist meditation techniques. Buddhism teaches that the mind is in the way of enlightenment, and the meditation teachings about breath are a way to let go of thinking. Tolle attempts to equate breath with the "God within" (245) by quoting Genesis 2.7, which tells us that God breathed "the breath of life" into man. Of course, Genesis 2.7 is not saying that we are God; it is demonstrating that God, the Creator, created man from nothing and is the source of life for man.
Like most New Agers with Buddhist worldviews, Tolle emphasizes being still. Tolle refers to a quote, though he does not give the source: "Stillness is the language God speaks, and everything else is bad translation" (255). Of course, where is the evidence for this? The evidence we have points to the opposite: God speaks in words. What we know about God's character and actions come from words ? the Bible- and from the incarnation of Jesus, who also left us words. The reason stillness is so adulated by Tolle is because he believes "Thought is form" (256) and is thus a trap. "When you are awake," writes Tolle, "you recognize yourself as the awareness behind it" (259) He adds, "Awareness takes over from thinking." When you are aware, you "know the mind of God" (261).
Stillness is not just being physically still, but it is stilling the mind to a no thinking state, which is believed to be a state that allows the realization of ultimate reality (or God, Source, Being, the Absolute, etc.). The awareness resulting from this is sometimes termed "higher consciousness." New Thought usually uses the term "Christ consciousness." The techniques used to produce this kind of stillness, usually done through meditation, are one of the chief methods for altering one's worldview.
This is compatible with Buddhist beliefs that thinking feeds into the false illusion of self and identification with material reality. This is why thinking is disparaged and why techniques to focus on breathing and not thinking are taught, both in Buddhism and in New Age modalities. When one realizes his true nature or reality as Buddha nature, then one is "awake."
Tolle declares there are "Unconscious people ? and many remain unconscious, trapped in their egos throughout their lives" (186). Once again, we have the right to ask: What evidence is there for Tolle's enlightened state, and what measure or standard is being used for this state? By what authority does Tolle make these pronouncements?
Tolle writes, "Unhappiness or negativity is a disease on our planet" (213), but it is sin that is the disease, sin that began in the Garden with disobedience to God the Creator (Genesis 3). Sin brings unhappiness because it brings separation from God, and it is a trap we cannot escape from on our own; only by God's grace through faith in Christ are we reconciled with God. While Tolle is correct in asserting that clinging to things will not bring lasting happiness, his solutions are wrong because he denies sin as moral failure and even denies that men are creatures dependent on God. His skewed view of both God and man pollutes his view of everything else. Tolle is spinning tales from a warped piece of yarn, so every thread ultimately will end in a knot.
Whenever a spiritual teacher claims that you are deluded, that you cannot trust your thoughts, that what you believe is real is not real, that he or she possesses teachings that few people know or understand, and these ideas are necessary for you to be free of pain and know God, then beware. These statements are the marks of esoteric systems that usually maintain that there are hidden meanings in the Bible, that the world is an illusion, that the truth is a secret only known to a few, and that you are not really human but godlike. In contrast, Jesus said he taught nothing in secret (John 18.20). God does not play games with us; Jesus did not hide his words in abstruse codes but made his meaning clear when the context is considered.
A New Earth has the potential to alter a reader's worldview, especially if the reader utilizes the techniques suggested by Tolle, including his audio meditations and "Awakening Exercises." These are not spiritually neutral tools. Applying Tolle's advice will lead the reader not to a shift in awareness, but to a shift in worldview. The result will not be awakening, but rather blindness -- blindness to the truth of who we are and what we need. I say this as one who formerly believed most of what Tolle is teaching, and who was blinded for many years to who I was and to who Jesus truly is.
The real awakening is the acceptance that we are sinful creatures who need redemption, and that this redemption has been provided for through the atonement. The only book that awakens one to authentic reality is God's word. The mission of Jesus was to come and pay the penalty for sins, the most important mission in the world, and yet Tolle overlooks this completely. Jesus did not come to destroy illusions but to atone for sins, which he did through unimaginable suffering, and through his victorious sacrifice and resurrection open the way for eternal life with God through faith.
"In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice" (Hebrews 9.22-26).