On March 3rd, 2008, Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle began an online
class with a reported 2 million people to study Tolle's book, A New
Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. On her April 9 television
show, Oprah highlighted testimonials from those who claimed that this
book had changed their lives. On that show, Oprah said that she is a
Christian but that she long ago understood that Jesus did not come to
die on the cross; instead, he came to show us how to achieve "Christ
Consciousness." She said that rather than the cross, what it really was
about was "Christ coming here to show us how to do it ---- how to be --
to show us the Christ consciousness that he had, and that that
Consciousness abides with all of us."
Oprah acknowledged that a book by Eric Butterworth, Discover the Power Within You, is what opened her eyes. Who is Butterworth and what does he have to do with Tolle?
Eric Butterworth (1916-2003) was a Unity minister. Unity was an offshoot of
the New Thought Movement, which teaches, among other things:
1. Jesus was a highly evolved man who realized his inner divinity -- the Christ Consciousness - demonstrating that all men could achieve this.
2. Everyone comes from God and returns to God, and there is no heaven or hell.
3. Sin is the belief that you are separate from God; liberation is to realize that you are not separate from God.
4. You must discard historic Christian beliefs for the New Thought way of understanding.
The New Age, which is an amalgam of many beliefs - Eastern, Gnostic, occult - incorporates elements of New Thought as well, including the concept of Christ Consciousness. Jesus is just one of many who realized his inner divinity. New Thought claimed to be Christian; even today, Unity bills itself as "practical Christianity."
This is why Oprah considers herself a Christian. Butterworth's book was a factor in paving the way for Oprah's subsequent acceptance and endorsement of the numerous New Age teachers and beliefs she has promoted on her show, including Tolle's book.
Tolle (pronounced in two syllables as "toll-e" to rhyme with
"slowly") reportedly had a spiritual awakening at age 29 after many
years of depression and anxiety. Waking one night in fear, he believed
he could not go on. His thought, "I cannot live with myself any longer"
caused him to surmise that there were two of him, and to ask
"'Who is the 'I' and who is the self that I cannot live with?' There was no answer to that question, and all thinking stopped. For a moment, there was complete inner silence. Suddenly I felt myself drawn into a whirlpool or a vortex of energy. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words, 'Resist nothing,' as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. Suddenly, all fear disappeared, and I let myself fall into that void."(http://www.quotemonk.com/authors/eckhart-tolle/biography.htm)
This experience led Tolle into studies of Eastern beliefs, including various schools of Buddhism. According to an interview with Tolle in the "Vancouver Sun" after the success of Tolle's first book, The Power of Now, "He knows he's achieved full self-realization" (Douglas Todd, Oct. 5, 2002, http://www.inner-growth.info/power_of_now_tolle/eckhart_tolle_va_sun.htm). Tolle is fully convinced of this, and is quoted in this article as saying to another source, "The certainty is complete. There is no need for confirmation from any external source. The realization of peace is so deep that even if I met the Buddha and the Buddha said you are wrong, I would say, 'Oh, isn't that interesting, even the Buddha can be wrong'" (Douglas Todd, op cit.). This is an astoundingly bold statement revealing that Tolle believes himself capable of being more enlightened than the Buddha.
It is important to remember that Tolle assumes himself to be fully self-realized, which means in New Age terms that he has achieved the Christ Consciousness, the realization of his inner divinity, which is a New Age state of enlightenment. Tolle considers himself a spiritual teacher, advanced enough to guide millions, even if he were to be contradicted by Buddha! This is in stark contrast with his reputed humility and low-key manner.
Tolle changed his first name Ulrich to Eckhart out of admiration for the mystic, Meister Eckhart. Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), known as a "Christian mystic," was a controversial figure, having been charged with heretical views after his death. One of Eckhart"s better-known statements is "The eye by which I see God is the same as the eye by which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one and the same--one in seeing, one in knowing, and one in loving" (http://mythosandlogos.com/eckhart.html). He also said, "God's is-ness is my is-ness, and neither more nor less. The just live eternally with God, on a par with God, neither deeper nor higher" (http://mythosandlogos.com/eckhart.html).
One cannot help but wonder if this thought from Meister Eckhart influenced Tolle's recurrent theme, first seen in his book, The Power of Now, and also expressed in A New Earth: "There exists only the present instant... a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence" (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/meister_eckhart.html). It seems that Tolle took more than just Meister Eckhart's name.
Meister Eckhart's views could be described as possibly pantheistic (God and the universe/humanity are one in nature - God is all and all is God), or at least panentheistic (God and the universe are contained within each other - God is in all and all is in God; or God is part of the universe and also transcends the universe), a not uncommon viewpoint of mystics, as well as being found in New Age beliefs. (The author of this article was involved for many years in Eastern and New Age beliefs similar to many of those promoted by Tolle.)
Tolle maintains that his book will cause a "shift" in your
consciousness and that his book The Power of Now or other "transformational" books can also start the process of awakening (page
7). The New Age is always looking to a future toward which man is
spiritually evolving. Many believe a shift in consciousness is taking
place, and humanity is poised to make leaps spiritually, mentally,
psychically, and technologically.
Some attribute this shift to the Age of Aquarius (though Tolle does not mention this); others are connecting it to the year 2012 based on a Mayan prophecy stating there will be a particular alignment in the sky at the end of a cycle of time, or see other evidence for this spiritual evolution taking place or about to take place.
However, according to New Age teachers, not everyone is prepared for this "shift." This teaching is only for those who are receptive and able to process it. As Tolle explains, his book "can only awaken those who are ready" (A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose [NY: Plume/The Penguin Group, 2005], 7). In order to say this, Tolle must assume that he is "awake" and has achieved a higher level of consciousness than others. He apparently expects others to accept this without question. But readers should be asking: Why should we accept that Tolle is the "enlightened" author? On what basis can he say this and where is the evidence for it?
Tolle's ideas, in fact, are a mere echo and rehashing of philosophies that have been around for centuries; this hardly indicates enlightenment or even special insight.