In Broad Strokes: A Brief Catholic Response to Eckhart Tolle

 

With warm gratitude to Bellator Dei for the graphic.

 

I am a Catholic convert – with nearly twenty years intensive engagement in the New Age subculture prior to my conversion. And within that culture, it seems to me, there is a typical pattern, which involves that of the “spiritual teacher.” Now, our secular world is filled with individuals who have become “stars” – often due to real talent, even brilliance on their part. And something similar is at work in the New Age movement. There too, certain individuals achieve “star” status …

Let me explain the pattern further. Typically, an individual possessed of a certain charisma, ability to communicate and quite possibly a noble and moral nature as well, claims the attention and following of many New Agers. Typically, the individual will have spurned tradition and have evolved a spiritual teaching outside religious institutions. Much of the source of the teaching may then be his own interior, spiritual reflection or experience. (Though in my judgment, it will also usually draw on other New Age teachings and ideology).

But if the individual is highly ethical, there can be no doubt the teaching will have some good points to it. The teacher may also have a kind of mystical experience, which may be rare or extraordinary. Herein will lie much attraction. In my own experience, many a New Ager reading the literature, attending the lectures, sessions, workshops and so forth, will also be a person of real sensitivity and ethical awareness.

Recognising what may be genuinely noble in the New Age teacher, the New Age follower well may say to oneself: “That sounds good – I’ll buy it!”

Certainly, when I look to my own twenty years with the New Age, this is how I was – I heard and read numerous “spiritual teachers” and my reaction, not even fully conscious, went something like: “That sounds good – I’ll buy it!” Alas! For I now believe that what is called for is deep critical reflection, before “buying” any “spiritual path”. For the dangers are significant ….

It is with such thoughts in mind – and heart – that I want to turn briefly to the thinking of Eckhart Tolle – who has become a superstar in the New Age world.

Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle. Photo By Kyle Hoobin [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

“Briefly” – I wish to stress that this is but a short piece in broad strokes. It cannot hope to do full justice to a spiritual philosophy with significant nuance and complexity. But even if it cannot do such justice, I hope this undertaking can still serve to stimulate in the reader, the very kind of critical reflection I ultimately found so sorely lacking in New Age circles.

We will quickly then look at a New Age text that has become very popular: Tolle´s The Power of Now. It is not only popular in the New Age, but has achieved considerable mainstream success as well. Since its first publication in 1997, it has been translated into thirty languages, reached millions of people and made the Number One spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.

All of this constitutes a phenomenon which – incidentally but significantly I think – would seem unimaginable thirty years ago. On the back of one edition of this book, there is a recommendation by Oprah Winfrey, which exclaims “The Power of Now can transform your thinking … The result? More joy – right now! ” The back cover blurb then goes onto inform us that:

“To make the journey into the Power of Now, we will need to leave our analytical mind and ego behind … We can find our way out of psychological pain. Authentic human power is to be found by surrender to the Now … the present moment where problems do not exist. … It is here that we discover that we are already complete and perfect.”

Now I believe this is a book with a depth of profound and authentic experience of a certain kind. For I do not think the author is a fraud. And summing up a profound book by its blurb is admittedly fraught with pitfalls. On the other hand, Tolle presumably agreed to have his thinking presented to the world with such a blurb. And within the limits of a short space, I feel this blurb does suffice to give an accurate reflection of the book´s content – at least to a degree.

Yes with honesty, I believe Tolle gives an account of how his life was transformed by the discovery of a realm of experience, wherein he found a “way out of psychological pain”, beyond “the analytical mind and ego” to the experience of a state “where problems do not exist” or at least seem to …

However, the question remains: are there sufficient grounds in the experience presented here for all of us to take up our beds and follow him? It seems to me that Tolle is making some sort of claim to this effect. For example, after speaking of that which transformed his life, Tolle confidently asserts:

“It wasn´t until several years later, after I had read spiritual texts and spent time with spiritual teachers, that I realized that what EVERYBODY WAS LOOKING FOR had already happened to me (Emphasis mine, pg 5).”

Dear Reader, as a Catholic, this is clearly troubling indeed. May I personally declare here that I, at least, am not at all looking for what has happened to Eckhart Tolle? And I believe the same has been and will continue to be true of countless others, including the great Christian mystics and saints …

Here is also an example of something all too common in New Age circles – that spiritual experience of a certain kind gets muddled up with New Age ideology. For at least implicit here is a classic example of New Age ideology, repeated so, so, so many times, that it has become axiomatic, and therefore unquestioned and unchallenged. The implicit ideology here then, is the claim that there is ONE spiritual goal that we are ALL seeking. However Tolle makes the same claim explicit as well. For he writes:

“In essence, there is and always has been only one spiritual teaching, although it comes in many forms … When I quote from the ancient religions or other teachings, it is to reveal their deeper meaning and thereby restore their transformative power, particularly for those readers who are followers of these religions or teachings. I say there is no need to go elsewhere for the truth. Let me show you how to go more deeply into what you already have … (pg 10-11)”

At this point, it may be necessary for the traditional Catholic reader to catch his breath! Such a reader may be forgiven for thinking I am being far too gentle with New Age teachers such as Tolle, speaking of their nobility and authenticity! If you are such a reader, remarking perhaps the sheer inflation on offer here, please know I understand and sympathise. But I think there is reason to be gentle. What is evident to you, dear Catholic Reader, is by no means so, to many sincere people in the New Age movement.

For throughout my long New Age years, the assumption Tolle is making about one single path that he is qualified to offer, might have washed over me, completely unnoticed. Unnoticed, because I had never paid serious attention – as I suspect Tolle has also never paid serious attention – to the idea that just because one has had a certain perhaps very profound form of mystical experience, does not mean ipso facto that this is the ONLY valid form of mystical experience.

Let us suppose we take Tolle at face value – that he truly is participating in extraordinary and in one sense, liberating way of being. Does that qualify him to speak about this experience? Undoubtedly, yes. Does that qualify him to say that this is the only form of valid spiritual experience that there is, which ´everybody is looking for’? Does he KNOW that his is the only way? And that for example, his way is the same way as offered by the Church with her Sacraments – which Catholics could just as easily forget and come to him for, instead? That the Christian Sacraments offer nothing different and can thus be exchanged?

Speaking personally, dear Reader, I see no justification at all for this New Age ideology in Tolle’s writing, and for myself, I am convinced that the Holy Church and Her Sacraments offer something very, very different to Tolle …

(One could also question why Tolle makes the implicit claim that religion has lost its “power” which he can “restore”. And I suspect I know the answer – that like many a New Age teacher, he has never deeply experienced a religious practice, but has nonetheless bought another tenet of New Age ideology: religion has lost its “deeper meaning and … power”.)

Yes, I am writing as an erstwhile New Ager who once bought such ideology myself – I who had never practiced a religion in my life! Now having practised New Age-ism and having practiced Catholicism, I can only report my personal conviction: the Power of Now and Catholicism lead to very different results in the soul …

In the short scope of this piece, no extensive comparison of Tolle and Christianity is possible. Suffice it to say, that Christianity seeks not the transcendence of suffering, but the EMBRACE of suffering. And that as such, Christianity is not about seeking “More joy, right now!”. Rather it concerns a compassionate identification with world suffering. At the very core of the Christian Faith, is the God who is not seeking “more joy, right now” but to become one with humanity, to the point of complete embrace of the entire agony of the human condition. Christians seeking a way of Imitatio Christi are therefore not in search of overcoming suffering, but of something else, which frequently will not relieve oneself of suffering, though it will lead to tremendous depth, strength, meaning and riches, within that suffering …

For Christianity, suffering is not without a point. For Tolle it would seem clear that ultimately there is no point. I say “ultimately”, for I am aware that Tolle does teach a certain willingness to meet the experience of suffering. But again and again, the message is there, explicitly and implicitly, that the only point to this is to move beyond suffering. For example in the Power of Now, he advises:

“When there is no way out, there is always a way through. So don’t turn away from the pain. Face it. Feel it fully. Feel it – don’t think about it. … Keep putting your attention on the pain, keep feeling the grief, the fear, the dread, the loneliness, whatever it is (pg 222)”

But one may notice the context the advice is couched in: “When there is no way out, there is always a way through. “ With Tolle, as the back cover of the book says, it is always about getting to the place “where problems don’t exist”. And shortly after Tolle has advised us to “keep feeling the grief, the fear” etcetera, he elaborates:

“Give your complete attention to what you feel … By giving full attention you use the power of your presence … Presence removes time. Without time, no suffering, no negativity can survive.”

Thus again, the goal is about getting beyond suffering, which is implicitly equated with “negativity” …

Dear Reader, all this and much more I find disturbing in Tolle’s philosophy. But it is his philosophy and it is his right to expound it. And one must be free to buy it – or not. Obviously, I prefer not to buy it. For in freedom, I have chosen Catholicism …

Now Catholicism is clear about the fact that freedom and choice exists between different spiritual paths. What I find severely problematic with Tolle is that such freedom and choice are being subtly denied. Again and again, implicitly or explicitly in his writing, I find the repeated suggestion that there is no other valid choice. That his philosophy represents the single path. IF this were true, all well and good. But if it is not true, then those who uncritically accept his claim have their freedom to choose reduced.

I want to turn to one last example of this tendency – one that seems to me to evidence no comprehension at all as to what Christianity is, and to subtly annihilate Christianity in the process. Thus directly after the material just quoted, Tolle, employing the literary device of an inquirer, presents us with the following exchange:

“Their are many accounts of people who say they have found God through their deep suffering, and there is the Christian expression ´the way of the cross´ which I suppose points to the same thing.”

To which Tolle responds: “We are concerned with nothing else here.”

We are concerned with nothing else here …!! From the context, it is manifestly clear that Tolle believes that the Way of the Cross is nothing other than his own spiritual philosophy. He seems in fact to have reinterpreted a path of voluntary carrying of suffering with a way in which one gets so fed up with suffering that one transcends it! For he writes:

“Enlightenment through suffering – the way of the cross – means to be forced into the kingdom of heaven, kicking and screaming. You finally surrender because you can’t stand the pain anymore (pg 225)”

This is indeed a profound reinterpretation of the Way of the Cross! One wonders whether it has never even occurred to Tolle that the Way of the Cross might be about something altogether different than his own path. Yes, a different “spiritual path” entirely which is not focussed on getting through the suffering. Yes, Our Lord went through the Crucifixion. Our Lord was resurrected. Yet he did not leave behind the world agony. But continues to suffer with us, his Sacred Heart pierced …

I cannot say for sure, but I will venture here an imagination. I imagine that such thinking about the pierced heart of Our Lord which goes on suffering … I imagine such a concept would be difficult for Tolle to take seriously. I cannot say with any certainty – but reading Tolle, it is very easy for me to imagine him seeing it as “medieval clap-trap” glorifying pain, little realising that countless Christian mystics, medieval and modern, walk such a way with Christ, letting their hearts be pierced with His …

Whatever the truth of my imagination, this is, as I say, a short piece. A more complete response could and would go into further issues. I well know for example, that many a New Ager – convinced by the “one basic path” New Age dogma – will demand if it is not that there is just semantics in my assertion that Tolle and Christianity are talking about radically different mystical paths. Many other questions and nuances could be addressed. But if my short piece has served to stimulate critical enquiry, it will have served its goal.

Dear Reader, in summing up, may I simply say that these are my personal convictions after years of reflection? That the kind of New Age-ism that takes its cue from Tolle IS about something radically different from Catholic Christianity. And we have a choice. And we deserve to know, that we have a choice – and that different spiritual paths DO exist, leading to different results in the soul. If you are a traditional Catholic such as myself, such a conviction will be the now proverbial “no-brainer”. What may be surprising to you, is that there are untold numbers of New Age folk – and a very great many of them are highly sincere and moral people – who have no inkling whatsoever that there could be an entirely different kind of “spiritual path” to the one offered by Eckhart Tolle. Or that there is a Mystery of Christ being completely buried by the kinds of assumptions and ideology that many New Age teachers are holding forth – often I suspect being barely conscious at all as to why they hold these views.

A Mystery of Christ being buried … ! Again dear Reader, if you are a traditional Catholic, you may feel I have been far too gentle in this piece. That I could have and should have used different and stronger language right from the outset. Perhaps you are right, but I will leave it to your imagination, as to what kind of language I might have used. I understand this New Age mindset very well, having participated in it for two decades. And I believe that as Christians, we need to be gentle. While at the same time, we need to be as alert as we possibly can to all that which serves to bury the Sacrifice on Calvary and all that which claims that the Catholic Mystery can be exchanged for the Power of Now – without cost to the soul.

Roger Buck

From Amazon USA:

Here are five powerful and important books, we believe. Certainly, each has been a very significant inspiration for this site. These books can also be found in our Amazon UK store here, as well as in in our Reviews. Links to each review are here: (Book Review: The Power and the Glory) (Book Review: The Portal of the Mystery of Hope) (Book Review: Meditations on the Tarot) (Book Review: Marian Apparitions) (Book Review: The Heart of the Redeemer).

 

 

 

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30 Comments

  1. Kevin Leahy
    Posted 1 June 2009 at 02:35 | Permalink

    I tried to read Eckhart Tolle, but I couldn’t get past the simplistic platitudes and “New Age speak”. I didn’t read more than the first chapter. I like to read “Meditations on the Tarot” as a morning contemplative exercise. But does that mean that I find Tolle offensive or deluded? No, I to believe that Tolle has had some sort of genuine experience and is trying to express it the best he can. He obviously had some sort of profound, life-changing experience and wants to share it with the world. He feels compelled to spread his message. Tomberg (and others) would probably argue that years of contemplation, reading and counsel from older souls would have been profitable before establishing himself as a Teacher. But as a cradle Catholic who has dabbled with New Age philosophies (because of a profound, life-changing experience in my late middle age) I can understand why someone would want to share his or her experiences.
    One of the direct consequences of my “awakening” is that I clearly remember past lives. Many of these lives were in the East: China, Tibet, India etc. I remember being a monk, warrior, mystic without any direct knowledge of Christ. Yet those lives were of direct spiritual benefit to my present incarnation. I no longer look at Eastern spiritual traditions as a bunch of “hooey”; I know that those lives were important to my spiritual development. As I read Tomberg, it is impossible to understand him without coming to terms with his belief in reincarnation. Even though he stated that belief in reincarnation is optional, if you read him closely it quickly becomes obvious that reincarnation is essential to his cosmology. Oddly enough, the Roman Catholic church is one of the few religions that has come out strongly AGAINST reincarnation. Tomberg was doubtless aware of this. It is not surprising that he instructed that his masterpiece be published posthumously. He must have been only too strongly aware of the reactionary forces at work in the Church. These forces are not just human, but spiritual.

    After dabbling with Buddhism, Taoism, Steinerism and consulting psychics (a sad group; consulting spirits can be a damaging occupation) I have re-embraced Catholicism. Not that I ever left the fold or lost my faith in Christ. I was looking for answers to my experiences, and these philosophies (and not the Church) offered answers to my questions concerning reincarnation. Until I started reading Tomberg–then all my questions were fully met and more.
    Although Tomberg mentions him many times, I don’t think he gives Teilhard enough emphasis. I believe that Teilhard de Chardin’s vision presents the ultimate alchemical process, the transformation of the Universe to Christ. How this was to be brought about, Teilard did not say (I don’t think he knew, really). But there is no doubt that there is an East Asian influence on both Tomberg and Teilhard. And it is necessary. It is a part of the evolution of consciousness that the Church must come to terms. To think that the East has nothing to offer is deny the complete consecration of the world. And though Tolle has a very incomplete vision, in some small way it has its part to play.

    I am not defending Tolle, and I hope you don’t construe this as an attack, but I would hope that we can define ourselves by what we are, and not by what we are against.

    • roger
      Posted 1 June 2009 at 10:53 | Permalink

      Kevin, I thank you for this complex response, for which I have some real concern. You write:

      “Oddly enough, the Roman Catholic church is one of the few religions that has come out strongly AGAINST reincarnation. Tomberg was doubtless aware of this. … He must have been only too strongly aware of the reactionary forces at work in the Church. These forces are not just human, but spiritual.”

      The suggestion you appear to be making here is that the Church’s “odd” stance against reincarnation is “reactionary” – and that this “reactionary” quality is rooted in something beyond the human.

      I wonder if you are even suggesting here, demonic?

      I do not know – but certainly Valentin Tomberg was gravely aware of demonic forces at work. And it seems to me that he is saying that the Church’s own profound awareness of the dimension of non-physical evil led it to reject reincarnation!

      Certainly, my own close reading of Tomberg reveals a profound affirmation of the Church’s reason for teaching against reincarnation. Because of the anonymous nature of some of his writing, I am in a moral conundrum as to how to give public reference to this. But I will write you privately.

      Tomberg makes very clear indeed that the most profound danger attends the teaching of reincarnation. This is very far indeed from seeing the Church as “reactionary” in terms of its stand against reincarnation.

      Profound danger … when you write Kevin “I am not defending Tolle, and I hope you don’t construe this as an attack, but I would hope that we can define ourselves by what we are, and not by what we are against.”

      I do not at all construe it as an attack and your warning about such definition contains wisdom I feel. A pure “anti-ness” serves no-one.

      I tried to meditate deeply on what I wrote about Tolle. I did not write it so much because I found him personally “offensive” as you put it – but I do believe his profound misrepresentation of Christianity is not without significance on the global stage.

      That is a deliberate understatement.

      Untold numbers are being blinded to Jesus Christ and His Church. As I was once blinded. These are very grave matters indeed.

      You raise other serious matters, Kevin. About what you call an “East Asian influence” on Tomberg for example. My own journey through his writings suggests that he was endeavouring to make us very clear indeed in the choice we made between Eastern approaches and Christianity.

      Thus in numerous ways, Tomberg returns to the idea that Eastern –(and Western pagan, Platonic, etc) approaches before Christ were to be a thief and a robber in respect of personalisation. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers (John x, 8)” …

      Kevin your response is complex as I say. And I have studied it. I will write you privately as I say. I have concern as I say, but let me finish for now in saying I am also glad to hear that you have not “left the fold or lost your faith in Christ.” …

      Thank you again. I cannot easily do more justice to your response for the moment. I will just say that I have two long articles in preparation, which concern Valentin Tomberg and the Church. One of them I hope will go up very soon.

  2. Posted 27 April 2010 at 20:42 | Permalink

    Roger: I read the following differently from you
    “… there is no need to go elsewhere for the truth. Let me show you how to go more deeply into what you already have … (pg 10-11)”

    I would/took this to mean for me that ET is saying everything I could ever want is in my Catholic faith, and he wants to show me how to go more deeply into it…

    And from what I can see, many who are searching for The Truth do eventually find their way to the Catholic Church even if it is sometimes a very windy path and totally unexpected by them!

  3. Posted 27 April 2010 at 20:59 | Permalink

    Unfortunately, whether we like it or not many have been damaged by those within the Catholic Church who were / have not grasped what Bishop Slattery was talking about in his recent homily as quoted below (see my ‘Listen and listen again’ blog post of today for more):

    “in sharing Christ’s obedience to the Father, we are made obedient to a new order of reality, in which love is supreme and life reigns eternal, in which suffering and death have been defeated by becoming for us the means by which Christ’s final victory, his future coming, is made manifest and real today.

    Suffering then, yours, mine, the Pontiffs, is at the heart of personal holiness, because it is our sharing in the obedience of Jesus which reveals his glory. It is the means by which we are made witnesses of his suffering and sharers in the glory to come.

    Do not be dismayed that there many in the Church have not yet grasped this point, and fewer still in the world will even dare to consider it, but you know this to be true and it is enough, for ten men who whisper the truth speak louder than a hundred million who lie.”

    There has been a lot more damage to people’s souls within the church than any physical or sexual damage imho, and sometimes it’s through seeing things through the eyes of someone like ET that actually brings us back to the true core of what the Catholic Church is, as so beautifully described by BishopSlattery!

  4. Posted 29 April 2010 at 18:38 | Permalink

    Epsilon, different responses here. To both what you have posted here and the related and beautiful things at your site.

    First I hear your interpretation of Tolle and it is possible that he could mean something like that in certain places in his writings.

    However I do think there is a great deal of other material there to bear out my interpretation.

    Whether we were to come to agreement on that or not, one thing I could agree with is expressed in that old yet profound chestnut: God works in mysterious ways.

    I would not deny that Tolle might on occasion serve people to find the Faith. Now, if I recall correctly, Edwin was counselling me recently to recall the stages of St Augustine’s pre-Christian journey in a similar light. Important stages on his way.

    Internet communication is fraught with peril, but it seems that there MIGHT be a plea in both of you and Edwin here, that I become more open and tolerant to the idea that New Age thought may yet serve to lead people to Christian and Catholic faith.

    IF so, I understand I think such a plea for openness and tolerance. Such I think is quite a natural disposition for me.

    But in a certain sense, I am working to overcome it. Through a LOT of intense processes in prayer, in thinking and in life, I have become painfully convinced that although under the heading of the mysterious ways of God, this kind of New Age thinking might be occasionally helpful, the truth is far, far more often the reverse.

    People’s way to the Church is being blocked and confused with countless obscurations of Christianity.

    I find your Bishop Slattery piece at your site very beautiful and as you indicate in your next piece there, I do believe Eckhart Tolle is serving to obscure precisely what Bishop Slattery is saying. Tolle is actually suggesting that his approach to transcending pain and Christian embrace of pain are one and the same thing. They are not.

    I will repeat the painful nature of this process for me. I have among other things alienated dear old friends. But I have had to go where an examination of decades of my own New Age experience took me – this stuff is in countless ways blocking people from the Church.

    And I must dare to sound intolerant and narrow-minded …

    As regarding you saying “whether we like it or not many have been damaged by those within the Catholic Church”. And you speak about the damage to people’s souls within the Church being greater than even the physical and sexual abuse.

    Epsilon. I am not without resonance here and my reading of your writings suggests to me as I have said before here, a truly heartfelt, compassionate nature.

    Though again internet communication is fraught with peril, for what it is worth your writing gives me the impression of someone who would with humility, keenly FEEL the limitations of the Church.

    Such feeling is very very important. And if I read you rightly, keenness of feeling would lead you to shy away from a kind of “triumphalist Catholicism of we the Church are all white and they’re black …” Which frankly characterised certain pre-Vatican II expressions of Catholicism.

    In modern parlance, this is called “demonisation”, of course. And the modern Church has shied away from the from the far more confrontational stance it took before Vatican II.

    I do see these things and struggle with them. As I struggle, I find very mixed things in me. On the one hand unlike certain Traditionalists, I certainly believe in what Ven John Paul did … asking forgiveness for the sins the members of the Church have collectively committed.

    On the other hand, the older I get, the more “De Maistrean” I get in this sense, seeing we are all radically, radically broken.

    Seeing ever more the darkness of our hearts, inevitably a VAST collective of people over time and space such as Catholics have been, would do terrible things to people’s souls and bodies in the name of the Church. Like every other vast collective.

    For me then, it becomes ever more miraculous how much good the Church has done. Which I think is sometimes being forgotten by those who feel so keenly the limitations …

    And that feeling this limitation, many post Vatican II Catholics have to one extent or another given up belief in the sheer Miracle of the Power of the Church.

    And I thus I also want want to fully join with certain Traditionalists who have a powerful faith in and defense of the Church, even if at times they might lack that keen, heartfelt sense I feel in your writings.

    I actually feel we need to recover much of that pre-Vatican II confrontational stance that is now so regretted … (This feeling is behind recent Tridentine rumblings at this site ).

    This is a LONG response Epsilon. And forgive me if I have hopelessly misconstrued you and it is thus irrelevant. Concluding points

    1) I recognise and really appreciate the real heart I see in your writings.

    2) You may end up finding me an intolerant narrow-minded Catholic – but I am hoping that you will not find me a KNEEJERK intolerant narrow-minded Catholic.

    For it has taken very hard work for me to become this intolerant and narrow minded …

    I would put a smile there, but there is too much suffering. Christianity is being buried …

  5. Posted 9 May 2010 at 20:10 | Permalink

    I responded to this last night but it got lost in transit 🙁

    Perfect response, Roger!

    I totally understand / agree with you on this:

    “I actually feel we need to recover much of that pre-Vatican II confrontational stance that is now so regretted … ”

    At a Julian Meeting last Thursday I got great pleasure in reading extracts from a letter of St Catherine of Siena and a prayer of hers where the dreaded word “sin” is used. The meeting is made up of Anglicans mostly and a couple of other protestants plus a catholic priest (who is more new age than catholic). When I was invited to “lead” I thought – find out who is the saint of the day – and as luck would have it St Catherine of Siena popped up. Now I have to admit to knowing very little about St C before this (what would we do without the internet!) but she said everything I wanted to say!! and she was born in the same decade as Julian of Norwich…

    My boatrocking is a little ironic given that one of St C’s symbols is – the boat (The Church) – which she wanted to steady – but then again they’re two different boats… 🙂

  6. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 10 May 2010 at 15:21 | Permalink

    I am reminded of a teaching I heard from a Hasidic Rabbi. It goes something like this: You see to people on a ladder one is higher and one is lower than each other…so the Rabbi asks cryptically: “Who is higher up the one who is “higher” or the one who is “lower?” The natural response is the obvious one: The one who is higher is higher. But the Rabbi says in response to this: “It depends if they are moving up or down.”

    Similarly, alternative or New Age or the religions or spiritual cultures may be signposts often secretly pointing us to Christ and His Church or they may be pointing away. This is part of the Mystery of Grace and that is why there is not a clear black and white response to the question of the relation of non-Christian faiths or practices to Christianity. One can certainly see both perspectives.

  7. Posted 10 May 2010 at 16:10 | Permalink

    Epsilon and Edwin, thank you both again.

    It is indeed easy to see a vast multiplicity of perspectives in the modern age. And more widespread subtlety of thinking rather than “black and white” fundamentalism might be also seen as a certain gift of modernity.

    However, there is an enormous trap for many here, which speaking for myself, I suffered many years from. The perspectives on offer led me into a paralysing indifference. In fact the Eckhart Tolle article above grew out of a life-turning event for me. This involved a dream of a man I believe to be an uncanonised Catholic saint. Through the dream, I realised I was being paralysed by indifferentism. And interior work was needed.

    And I have worked hard to overcome this- and the article above and the whole site bear witness to this work. Although I still don’t think I’ve entirely managed it.

    Additionally, I think the post-confrontational, post-Vatican II Church is caught on the horns of this paralysing indifferentism as well – and very, very often crippled as a result.

    I don’t know the mission of Saint Catherine of Siena very well either, Epsilon. Though strangely for the last months, have been feeling I need to. Thank you for your postings and links here.

    One thing I am sure of, the dynamic St Catherine did not suffer from paralysing indifferentism …

  8. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 11 May 2010 at 13:35 | Permalink

    Well, there certainly is more than one alternative to “paralysing indifferentism.” The refusal to be indifferent may open us to asking what the meaning of these faiths/ideas are and exploring this question in depth. Most of all, let us avoid an attitude of hostility. Conversation at the level of depth versus contraversy seems to be in order.

  9. roger
    Posted 11 May 2010 at 15:00 | Permalink

    Edwin, your comment makes me wonder if I sound hostile?

    And given the darkness of my heart, it is very possible that some hostility is seeping out from it here.

    However , it honestly seems to me that the interior movement I have been indicating in this comments section is – by the Grace of God – a movement to greater and deeper charity.

    What my core intention in this thread is certainly charity and I could not agree with you more about the need to offer up our hostility and pray that it become consumed by LOVE …

    However this does not preclude certain very sharp distinctions being made, For example, the Holy Father as Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about other religions being “gravely deficient” in comparison with Christianity in Dominus Jesus – a document that took enormous courage and became instantly notorious in certain circles, when it was issued in the year 2000.

    Valentin Tomberg, whom I know you honour deeply too, occasionally (and certainly not always!) makes even sharper distinctions than any recent Pope. For example, when he speaks of the “Lutheran heresy”.

    Now I do not think such very sharp statements spring from a lack of enquiry into the “meaning of these faiths/ideas”as you put it.

    And in both cases, I think Joseph Ratzinger and Valentin Tomberg were speaking with not hostility, but burning charity for the world.

    But I am not the Holy Father or Valentin Tomberg! It may well be that my own sharp distinctions DO indicate lack of charity or enquiry into meaning – and that you are somehow picking this up. The more I look into my heart, the more darkness there is to see …

    I repeat my movement does seem to be one in the direction of greater charity in these matters. BUT I welcome your feedback – and any prayers you may have for me.

    Finally, although it is on a somewhat different topic, I am readying a post from Kim which speaks beautifully I think to the issue you raise of not succumbing to hostility. It will be ready soon. (Because Kim has an eye problem, I must upload all her writings).

  10. Mark
    Posted 26 February 2011 at 12:07 | Permalink

    A book most people interested in Catholicism should read is “Hell on the way to Heaven”

    • Posted 26 February 2011 at 16:47 | Permalink

      Mark, thank you for this comment, which like that of reXteryalizer I take is one of concern for human welfare …

      Rather than reply to you here, I have a lot more to say in response to you in a blog entry shortly to be posted.

      It is called: On the Crimes of Catholics: A Response to reXteryalizer and Mark

  11. Jonathan Rios
    Posted 13 September 2011 at 19:28 | Permalink

    Here is a video of Eckhart Tolle
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9wF4za-YvM

    He is actually Satan Manifested in the flesh.
    I must get the world aware of this.
    Thank You, and I am sorry to inform that Eckhart will be a world leader and corrupt the world.

    • Posted 15 September 2011 at 10:24 | Permalink

      Jonathan, I would quake in my boots before judging almost any human being as Satan manifested.

      A genocidal maniac – perhaps. Even then I would want to be extremely careful.

      I have hesitated before publishing your comment here because I do not relish this forum being used for such statements.

      However I print it as your opinion.

      For myself I repeat what I have indicated above about having little doubt in Tolle’s sincerity and integrity.

      However something I DO share with you is a belief in the demonic. I will not trash thousands of years of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and join the modern growing trend/fad for discarding all reference to Satan, demons and hell.

      I think Jonathan you and I would concur Christianity is being falsified and attacked through Tolle in a very subtle way.

      Could demons of darkness be at work here?

      Why not?

      I suspect the terrible truth is that demons of darkness are at work everywhere.

      I do not doubt that they work through me at times …

      “Let him who is without sin …”

  12. Peter
    Posted 15 September 2011 at 08:15 | Permalink

    At the beginning, I want to apologize for my english.

    I am a catholic since I was a child, and I don’t buy the New Age stuff – tunelling, age of aquarius, ghosts that can guide people, etc. Howerver, I do not find Eckhart Tolle’s teaching a part of New Age. I wouldn’t identify Tolle with any particular religion.

    One day, I had some problem and I was looking for the answer in the Internet. Then I found this book – “The power of now”. From the first pages I was amazed. It was like nothing I have ever read before. I’d had some personal experience before and there were some things that I had already knew deep inside of me. And in this book those things were told directly. It confirmed my beliefs. It sounded as true to me, as nothing else before. I’d heard before some priests or religion instructors that was also “pointing in that direction” but less directly.

    “The power of know” has brought only good into my life. I am still a catholician, still go to church and still take the communion. What is more, know I understand my own religion better and more deeply. Every time I hear the Biblie in church it is more understandable to me. The whole religion makes more sense to me.

    The first time I read this book was about 2,5 years ago and I believed it helped me to deepen connection with the God. I think that this is worth reading: http://toddwrightnow.blogspot.com/2010/02/eckhart-tolle-for-christians_01.html

    • Posted 15 September 2011 at 11:18 | Permalink

      Peter thank you for this sincere record of your experience and conviction.

      Too much to say in a comments box. But in response to:

      “Howerver, I do not find Eckhart Tolle’s teaching a part of New Age. I wouldn’t identify Tolle with any particular religion.”

      I have spent thirty years with the New Age, including two decades identified with it.

      Given time, I could say a lot to substantiate why I believe Tolle is permeated with the ideology of the New Age. But I cannot do it in a comments box. There is quite a lot at my site to indicate this. The best way is perhaps to go to the label (below) for “New Age”.

      Regarding:

      “The power of know” has brought only good into my life. I am still a catholician, still go to church and still take the communion.”

      I imagine that I would have found Tolle very attractive at one point in my life.

      And I think that attraction would be rooted in the fact that there is genuineness in the book. I think there is a genuine mystical experience here – of a certain kind.

      It is as though approaches such as Tolle and Christianity share common ground – up to a certain point.

      This common ground would include a certain contemplative awareness, ethics and certainly more.

      Beyond that common ground – a divergence begins.

      I have already indicated much as to that divergence.

      But a key here is to do with suffering. Christianity is really not about overcoming suffering in exchange for joy – joy alone. It is about bearing suffering – “offering it up” – as Catholics used to say once upon a time.

      As the soul learns to bear suffering, paradoxically joy becomes deeper.

      Unlike Tolle’s approach, one will suffer ever more deeply in Catholic practice – and find profound meaning in that.

      But one will also feel joy ever more deeply too.

      Really I cannot do justice to reflections here that hinge on thirty years of my life. My upcoming book will go into this in much more depth.

      I am very glad to hear you are receiving communion. I believe that if you will stay with the receiving of Holy Communion, you may in time find that Holy Communion is pointing in a very different direction than Tolle.

      It is pointing to a very human flesh and blood spiritual direction where one is willing to suffer as Jesus suffered …

      Daily communion at any rate has been my liberation. It has led me into depths of joy and suffering unlike anything I ever knew in all my New Age years, when I followed numerous Eastern practices including Krishnamurti’s (Which seem to me very akin to Tolle. I imagine Tolle would far prefer Krishnamurti to traditional Christianity).

      Again Peter thank you for taking time to record your experience here, especially in a language which is not your own …

      • Peter
        Posted 23 September 2011 at 14:41 | Permalink

        Thank you for your answer, roger.

        “But a key here is to do with suffering. Christianity is really not about overcoming suffering in exchange for joy – joy alone. It is about bearing suffering – “offering it up” – as Catholics used to say once upon a time.

        As the soul learns to bear suffering, paradoxically joy becomes deeper.”

        And this is exactly how I understand Tolle’s teaching about that 🙂

        Best regards.

        • Posted 16 October 2011 at 10:45 | Permalink

          Peter, thank you again. There is a certain gladness in me that you can interpret Tolle like this.

          But for myself. I cannot help but wonder if it speaks to something deeply Christian in your own soul – rather than in what Tolle is really saying.

          “I cannot help but wonder” I said.

          I lack time right now to go back through Power of Now and even if I did have time, I am unsure of the wisdom of debating this in a comments box.

          Perhaps I will simply say: I myself was not able to understand Tolle in this light.

          There was simply too much there that seemed to militate against such an understanding.

          I do for example distinctly recall Tolle writing to the effect that suffering had one sole purpose – and that sole purpose was to give up suffering …

          But perhaps I am already beginning to argue with you, unwisely as I say. Still I give this as a scant indication of why I am unable to share with you this interpretation of Tolle.

          • Peter
            Posted 25 October 2011 at 15:03 | Permalink

            “I do for example distinctly recall Tolle writing to the effect that suffering had one sole purpose – and that sole purpose was to give up suffering …”

            I think I can uderstand your point of view. Please, look at this:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Deq_1lg9Dlo

            Eckhart Tolle means that you should stop INFLICTING suffering to yourself.
            He also says that you should accept your suffering that you already have. Don’t use some mind tricks (like NLP teachers could do) – just be aware of what you are feeling and accept that. Accept your cross and offer your suffering to Christ.
            When you are present and not involved in compulsive thinking, when you accept your suffering and you are not egocentric – then you can open to God.
            Then you are not captivated by your suffering – you are the space for your suffering. You do not use some tricks to give it up – if you accept the suffering, it’s almost like you do not suffer – because now the God is important, not the suffering. Deep inside you are free, you are connected to God, you find the peace of mind.

            It’s rather about the pace of mind, than about joy – joy is only a side effect.
            Yes, there is other side effect – the suffering gradually goes away – but this is not the most important thing. First you need to accept it – and when you accept it, it’s not the problem anymore.

            “As the soul learns to bear suffering, paradoxically joy becomes deeper.”

            When you accept your suffering and offer it to Christ, you are free of that suffering and more opened to God. It’s not the suffering that is the source of joy. The source of joy is your relation with Christ.

            Please, take a look at this – it’s written by Richard Rohr (OFM): http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/images/eckharttolleandthechristiantradition_richardrohr_2009-05-09.pdf

          • Posted 15 April 2012 at 13:01 | Permalink

            Peter although I responded to you privately, somehow I just feel I want to publicly acknowledge your comments here, especially a sincere and touching element with which they strike me, even while I disagree respectfully.

  13. Jason Beale
    Posted 6 January 2012 at 07:48 | Permalink

    Thanks for an intellingent article Roger. I have been reading The Power of Now and feeling a bit disturbed, though not for the reasons you mention.

    I think you conflate to some extent what are 2 different traditions – the new age and non-dualist spiritualism. The first covers many different influences from Madame Blavatsky to Findhorn and beyond, but the latter is based on Indian Advaita philosophy as first set out in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Tolle’s philosophy is almost pure Advaita, but presented in a maddingly simplistic way, through one dimensional platitudes and proselytising.

    I myself have studied the teachings of some great Advaita teachers (ie. Shankara, Ramana Maharshi) and have also come across some writings exploring Indian Advaita from a Catholic viewpoint (ie. Bede Griffiths and Anthony de Mello). These are well worth reading, for these look at what is common between Western Christianity and Eastern Hindu philosophy in a very reasonable and careful way, without any ‘new age’ influence.

    • Posted 15 April 2012 at 12:54 | Permalink

      Jason, my apologies for this incredibly delayed response to what I feel was a very valuable comment here.

      Thank you.

      I absolutely take your point about my conflating – “to some extent” as you put it – somewhat different things.

      It was with at least some awareness of this that I spoke above about speaking in “broad strokes” – perhaps even laboured the point to putting it in the title of the article!

      Some further impressions in broad strokes.

      While I receive what you say about:

      ‘Tolle’s philosophy is almost pure Advaita, but presented in a maddingly simplistic way, through one dimensional platitudes and proselytising.’

      I suspect that the “maddeningly simplistic” presentation, platitudes etc owe a LOT to the Blavatsky/Findhorn/New Age stream.

      Having lived at Findhorn, I feel there is a lot of ideology in Tolle that stems from that stream.

      So I tend to feel there are huge imports/injections here from the largely Anglophone stream of literature running from Blavatsky through Alice Bailey through Findhorn etc.

      (I have said a lot at this site about the peculiarly English speaking nature of this stream. Blavatsky was a Russian who chose to write in English – when English was not the world language it is today! More can be found about this in our label for New Age below …)

      More than I can easily address in a comments box – so I just thank you again for your real contribution here.

  14. wade dickson
    Posted 12 April 2012 at 22:52 | Permalink

    Roger, a little food for thought: As Eckhart Tolle would say “You can have a point of view, but don’t be attached to it”. One can always argue from on’e point of view, but this does not mean that your point of view is truth. Of course you may earnestly believe in your point of view but this does not make it right. Stand back a little and see that there are many points of view, as an example, one respondent mentioned Richard Rohr who can see the good that Tolle’s philosophy is doing for mankind.
    I respectfuly suggest that we all turn inwards and focus on our personal transformation rather than airing our opinions which is really the Egoic Mind (of Eckhart Tolle) at work. Probably I am just as guilty for having put “finger to keypad”.

    • Posted 17 April 2012 at 17:57 | Permalink

      Wade, as you say I am very much expressing my own point of view here. As I take it you would agree that you are expressing your point of view and that Eckhart Tolle is expressing his point of view.

      Your point of course is that I seem overly attached to my opinions, whereas I imagine you would take Tolle’s word at face value that he is not attached to his opinions.

      Now we could debate that last point, but I am not sure there would be much point in our debating.

      This is because your own search and longing for truth has clearly led you to such a different point of view than my own search has led me.

      And there would seem little ground to meet on. You and I would seem to be searching for such different things, I am not sure where we could find find commonality.

      For example, I do not worry much about attachment to my views. Indeed I actively seek to have strong convictions and faith.

      As I say in the article, different seekers can be seeking such different things.

      To reiterate from the above:

      ‘Tolle confidently asserts:

      “It wasn´t until several years later, after I had read spiritual texts and spent time with spiritual teachers, that I realized that what EVERYBODY WAS LOOKING FOR had already happened to me (Emphasis mine, pg 5).”

      Dear Reader, as a Catholic, this is clearly troubling indeed. May I personally declare here that I, at least, am not at all looking for what has happened to Eckhart Tolle? And I believe the same has been and will continue to be true of countless others, including the great Christian mystics and saints …’

      I think much of what I am saying above is that Eckhart Tolle cannot ‘count Christians in’ as having the same spiritual aims as he does.

      And you cannot ‘count me in’ as having the same aims as Eckhart Tolle. Thus I am not especially bothered by attachment per se. Some – not all! – forms of attachment seem profoundly important to me.

      At the same time, I cannot hope to include you in my vision with your very serious differences from me.

      I spoke above about ‘your own search and longing for truth … ‘

      All I think I can do is wish you well with that – imagining as I do that it is real and sincere (as I also believe Tolle’s search has been).

  15. anne
    Posted 18 June 2012 at 07:04 | Permalink

    Hi. It’s interesting to read everybody’s experience and opinions. This is something that has been on my mind recently.. i.e how Ekhart’s teachings ‘fit’ into my own beliefs. I first read Eckhart’s book 10 years ago. Just before that, I had an experience that I could not and stil not describe properly. I won’t go into detail here, it would take too long, but I know in my heart, mind and soul taht this experience was the most real and true thing that could have possibly happened. Anyway, shortly after, I went searching for knowledge on the experience. I wasn’t confused by the experience, and I didn’t doubt it in any way, because it was the most intense, pure, real experience, but I just wasn’t sure if it had been written about before. I was only 19 and hadn’t read up or even heard of this type of experience. Anyway, I came across Tolle’s book and I couldn’t beleive that he had described, word for word, what I had experienced. For the last 10 years I have no doubt in my mind that what Eckhart has experienced is real and true. I have experienced it myself, and there is no denying that this experience is not real, or is a product o the mind. It is much, much bigger than that.

    My problem/thoughts however, is that because I trusted Eckhart’s account of experience with all my heart and mind (because to deny it would be like denying that it had happened to me… which is impossible), I assumed that his opinions were true also. I think there has to be a personal element of opinion in any wrting that attempts to translate that experience. While in that experience, we are not given the details of who or where god is, if there is one or many, if there is an afterlife, or if this is heaven on earth during this experience. We are not given the details, only the experience itself. Everything makes sense within that experience and there is no need to ask questions. However, like I said, when it comes to translating that experience, because it will always have an element on mind in the writing process, personal opinions may shape (even without knowing), how the experience is translated. I personally do not agree with the opinions on the universe and what we are that Tolle has given, however I believe in his experience and believe that he believes he is telling truth. We are given the oneness with God and the sense of presence in the moment, where everything you thought was important just evaporates and you feel deep, exhilarating Joy and peace. Time dissappears and you understand fully that death does not exist; that nothing real can ever actually die. I understood (and I know this sounds strange), that the garden of eden is not a particular place from a particular time, but a state of being. I trully believe that myself and friend (who had the experience at the same time) existed within the garden of eden for that short time. There are no voices during this experience telling us waht is and what isn’t the right way to interpret. During the experience, you just exist within it, and its wonderful and clear, and truthful. I believed that the world as I knew it had come to an end.

    I think there’s a danger with trying to interpret it through the lenses of pre-conceptualized beliefs. this is perhaps what Tolle has done. For me, I am catholic. I havn’t been a practicing catholic for a long time. After my experience, I in fact dissacociated from organised reliegion all together, because during these experiences, there was nothing (no boundary, idea, belief system, words, thoughts etc) that could contain this experience. Nonetheless, I feel (and I don;t know if this is because of my catholic upbringing so its familiar and safe teritory for me), that these experiences can just as easily, and perhaps more smoothly, be interpreted through the bible. I remember reading the bible shortly after these experiences, at 19, after having pretty much no experience reading it, and understanding it completely. I understood it in a different way to waht I ever had before. I also beleive in Jesus as the son of god who was born into that oneness/awarenss that I breifly witnessed. He was pure, unable to be in the state of mind that the rest of us are in. I also have a sense of there being One and only God. The one described in the bible.

    You are probably all a lot more knowledgable than me… so its great to come here to read other’s opinions and beliefs and get a sense of security.

    • Posted 3 July 2012 at 09:59 | Permalink

      Anne, I am sorry it took me this long to reply – because there is something so beautiful in you sharing your experience here.

      Something I believe, which may make me sound very ‘New Age’, is that these days there are numerous young people being given the grace of experiences such as you as describe.

      I myself had experiences in my youth that seemed akin to what Tolle describes.

      And I agree with you wholeheartedly that a distinction must be made between on the one hand, Tolle’s recording of his experience, and as you say his integrity with that (as you say in your own words: “I believe in his experience and believe that he believes he is telling truth”) …

      Versus on the other hand, his experience being mixed up with opinions – and I would say they are very New Age opinions. It is very much New Age ideology.

      When in my youth, I was given the Grace from God of experience perhaps similar to yours (?) again experience that I think a number of young people have these days … I knew nothing of the Church.

      All I had to turn to was books filled with New Age ideology.

      I wonder if something comparable happened to Tolle. First came his experience, then he turned to New Age literature – and not the Christian saints at all! – and formed conclusions based on New Age ideology.

      Whereas unlike Tolle and myself, you had the grace of “Catholic upbringing” as you put it …

      Anne, there is a great deal beauty in what you write. I have not responded to all of it here (though I hope to say something privately at some point), but I hope that from my partial response, I very much appreciate your contribution here. Thank you, most warmly.

  16. Mark beveridge
    Posted 16 September 2013 at 17:55 | Permalink

    I had no connection with any New Age movement or culture. I had no religious or spiritual teaching pointed in my direction. I lived and prospered in a secular environment. I didn’t know anyone that was Enlightened and I had never even heard of it. I became Enlightened without any prior knowledge of its possibility. I was not consciously searching for anything and yet it happened. Only after it happened did I discover what it was through the words of Eckhart. So far, there is nothing I have heard Eckhart say that is dischordant with my experience.

  17. Rajib
    Posted 5 February 2014 at 11:16 | Permalink

    You/we are exactly looking for the same that Has happened to Eckhart . The problem is that it hurts to accept that what Eckhart experienced was “Nothing” and that is going to be with all( with all religion) and spiritual journey.
    Because the ultimate truth is “Nothing”
    Yes before reaching to the Ultimate we have lots of beliefs lots of hopes, lots of pain and reliefs. We have lots of claims on being superior or true god seeker. We have designs and dreams based on faith. And all the false bliss are active with them.
    But the ultimate truth is “nothing” , that is the realisation so pure and Devine none of the faith or belief exists there.
    There is no hate or superiority claims, just the compassion for all.

    • Posted 8 February 2014 at 13:48 | Permalink

      Rajib, thank you for this. I am not sure there is anything I can say other than what I wrote above in reply to you. At the risk of being completely redundant, I think my experience is more profound than an accumulation of “designs and dreams based on faith” – as you put it.

      I have gone through a process with this for over thirty years. In my youth, I would have resonated with you and Eckhart very much. Same or similar “designs and dreams” – based on a faith that was akin to Eckhart’s faith.

      It took me many years indeed to find out I was not looking for what you and Eckhart are looking for …

  18. jdm
    Posted 22 October 2015 at 18:57 | Permalink

    Re: what you said about the Lord continuing to suffer with us

    I have a problem with that. According to the Supplement to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas one of the properties of the resurrected body is impassibility i.e. immunity to suffering. From this it follows that if Christ is risen he is no longer suffering. He still remembers that the world is suffering, and does not approve of the offences against his Sacred Heart, and I believe his risen body still has his wounds. And Christ’ is offered in the mass in, as the Council of Trent says, an unbloody fashion. But I don’t think he is suffering any longer.

    Or maybe you meant that Christ identifies with us, so that when we suffer he is concerned for us as if he were suffering himself. That of course can be true without Christ literally suffering. This would relate to the “Mystical Body of Christ” concept and to what is said in Matthew 25:44-45.

    STTJOHMC

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