The premise of Tolle’s worldview is that the past and future are illusions. Nothing exists except the present, the now. Memories are recollections of other “now” experiences, just as our future actions, when they happen, will be happening “now.” The now is inescapable. It’s a totally different way of looking at time. Together with this view is the idea that you are not your mind. You are what Tolle calls “being”, using the mind. I came to hold this same view a year or two ago, coming at it from a different angle than Tolle but reaching the same conclusion. For Tolle it was an experience of ongoing deep distress that led him to this. Essentially, after telling himself “I’m distressed,” he asked himself the question, “Who is that is perceiving that I am distressed?” And the answer is: “The real you behind the mind.”
Tolle’s philosophy can best be summarised by saying that the solution to most problems in life (certainly the beginning of the solution to all problems) is to become intensely present in the now – to feel and to accept your life as it is this very moment. To stop the “egoic mind” from running amuck, worrying about the future, regretting the past, etc. I’m kind of on board with Tolle’s general thinking, but where I object strongly is when he starts to talk about how there is something wrong with the human ego. He even goes as far as calling it insane. And he uses the example of how we treat the world and each other as proof of this. I beg to differ. The egoic mind is a tool that consciousness is using to interface and interact with the world. It’s doing the job it was designed to do. If we want to pin the evils of the world on something, I think we should pin it on the massively mind-controlled state that humanity is in through such influences as television, religion and the education system. How could you be anything but greedy for gain and fearful of survival in a world that teaches people to be materialistic and to compete with everyone else for the best jobs. The ego, in its highly manipulated state, is simply doing what it’s supposed to do. But there is nothing inherently wrong with a healthy ego.
The book was a mixed bag for me. At times it was overly technical, where Tolle seemed to turn enlightenment into a complex equation that was impossible to remember – and unnecessary to remember. Better to become aware of profound truths yourself by living in the now and observing its effect on your life, rather than having it all spelled out for you. Then there were those times when I very much appreciated what I was reading. I felt his insights on relationships to be particularly helpful.
Tolle does something which my past religious experience tells me is a big mistake. He divides humanity up into the enlightened and the unenlightened. The enlightened are those who live in the now, aware of “being,” and the unenlightened are those who are driven by ego. Tolle even uses the term “salvation” to describe the state of those who have attained enlightenment. Although he is not asserting anything as crass as “The unenlightened shall perish in hell” he does something that really gets up my nose, and he’s not the first spiritual teacher to do this: he tries to play nice with Christianity. Now and then, he quotes a verse from the Bible and, with no regard to context, says, “When Jesus said ***, what he actually meant was ***.” Come on, Tolle, what you’re presenting here is not Christianity. It doesn’t remotely resemble Christianity. Have the courage to call a spade a spade. Nobody who embraces Christianity arrives at the your spiritual viewpoint without first coming to the realisation that Christianity is a false religion. Dispense with this pick-and-mix Bible quoting; it does your credibility no good, except in the eyes of those readers who don’t have a thorough knowledge of the Bible.
Tolle unfortunately presents himself as one of those gurus, self-proclaimed “spiritual teachers.” Anybody who comes to me with some kind of spiritual package deal that is supposed to solve all of life’s problems immediately raises my suspicions. There is no such thing as salvation, and this thing called enlightenment is always a matter of degree, not of division.
Tolle can have his place among a long list of people who have had a mixture of useful and useless things to say to the human race. The Power of Now is worth reading, but with a critical eye. More useful than not, but also sadly presented in a way that easily attracts a herd following. I got something out of it, but it is not The Answer, as it makes itself out to be.