Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Eckhart Tolle Buddhist? (video)

Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; video (Learning the Secret)

Be here now, sati-sampajjana (P-A)
Sitting on a park bench, not listening to Jethro Tull but talking with Eckhart Tolle (pronounced eK-heart TOLL-lay), after his own independent "awakening" to the power of NOW. There is this moment, the present moment, and it is always only this moment. So live now. The mind will complicate things. Pain will encourage suffering, but suffering is optional and mind-made. How can we live in the now?

Presence -- even if being only in the company of someone speaking from presence (mindfulness, presence of mind, alert, constantly aware that it is only the now, what the Buddha referred to as sati-sampajjanna or "mindfulness and clear comprehension) -- keeps us powerful and in the now.

Tolle seems to have realized, at least intellectually, that there is no self, no permanent "I" to identify with thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and so on. If he has had this realization to the profound level of a stream enterer, one who has entered upon the first stage of what the historical Buddha described as "enlightenment" (bodhi), glimpsing nirvana, certain to make an end of rebirth and all suffering within seven lives, that is doubtful or at least unclear. He does not make that claim. But his realization, however it happened and however he phrases it (since, by his own admission, Tolle is only ever saying the same thing, making the same point in a hundred different ways. See Even the Sun Will Die, a Sounds True double CD interview with Tami Simon), puts him in line with Buddhism. See Minute 28:55, where Tolle begins to talk about the Buddha and the conception of "emptiness" or "spaciousness" (shunyata), what he claims Jesus called "the fullness of life." And he often speaks highly of the Buddha and Buddha's teachings (Dharma).

He may only have come to a Vedantic conception of reality, the "Timeless or Eternal Truth" (Sanatan Dharma, as Hinduism refers to itself). The Buddha was aware of this perspective, which lives on very strongly in many Mahayana Buddhist conceptions. But the historical Buddha went beyond, to talk about things never heard by the Brahmin priests and ancient Vedic "seers" (rishis) thought to have composed the very ancient Vedas ("Knowledge Books" of the Indus Valley Civilization preserved as India's sacred texts). The Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and became not a teacher aligned with the Brahmins, but a Shraman (shramana movement) teacher, the iconoclastic tradition of "wandering ascetics" rejecting the Vedas and independent of Brahmin temple priests, engaged in ritual and memorizing Vedic verses).

The Power of (the bench) Now
Under a tree: girlfriend, Eckhart, and filmmaker
Eckhart Tolle's profound yet simple teachings have already helped countless people throughout the world find inner peace and greater fulfillment in life.

At the core of his teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution that leaves behind suffering (i.e., mentally-produced pain).
An essential aspect of this awakening consists in transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite not only for personal happiness but also for the ending of collective violence on the planet.

Eckhart Tolle is a much sought-after public speaker who teaches and travels extensively. Many of his talks, weekend intensives, and retreats are published as CDs and DVDs. Most of the teachings are given in English, but occasionally he also gives teaches in German and Spanish. 

He is a pioneer in using technology to disseminate his teachings. At EckhartTolleTV.com, he gives monthly talks, live meditations, and answers questions from viewers. In addition to The Power of Now and A New Earth, he has written a book designed for meditative (contemplative) reading entitled Stillness Speaks. And a book consisting of selections from The Power of Now is also available, entitled Practicing the Power of Now.
  • There is a lot of money to be made selling what we have difficulty finding as simple as we are told it is. Billionaire media mogul Oprah (oprah.com) pushes and capitalizes on Tolle, too: "I keep Eckhart's book at my bedside. I think it's essential spiritual teaching. It's one of the most valuable books I've ever read."
Final commentary
Many ask, "How can I achieve what you have clearly achieved?" To that Tolle has no answer, except to say that he sees it happening more and more, presumably spontaneously and only to a select few. This leaves us to wonder if he thinks no one can hasten the unfoldment, make faster progress, advance the process along, blossom more quickly the way the Buddha taught followers to blossom.
Eckhart Tolle may be a Buddhist at heart, or very close to liberating-insight, but he is not one publicly so. He speaks highly of the Buddha and speaks highly of the Dalai Lama (Minute 44:00), as if the Dalai Lama were an example of enlightenment, which the Dalai Lama very clearly says he is not. And given the way Tolle defines "self" (Minute 1:55) -- whether as presence, a watcher, the wider space in which things happen, the spaciousness in which experience unfolds, or as consciousness itself -- these are all very Hindu/Eastern philosophical conclusions that fall short of what a "stream enterer" realizes in order to make the breakthrough into what the historical Buddha defined as just the first stage of "enlightenment." As Mahayana-Buddhist as all his beautiful teachings may sound at times, it is not in line with the core Mahayana teaching of the Heart Sutra, namely that what is taken as "self" is actually devoid of self, is empty (shunyata). This is the epitome of the perfection of wisdom that liberates Kwan Yin/Avalokitateshvara, the protagonist in the great sutra and climactic mantra known in Sanskrit as the Prajna Paramita.
Hinduism points and says, "Thou art that." It is the twin teaching along with, "Thou art not that." Yet, constantly seeking identification with anything, the realization never dawns (on the Five Aggregates) that things arise dependently originated, not from an eternal "self" or "ego," not from an independent doer, watcher, or experiencer behind the experience. Without this monumental realization, one clings to one or more of the Five Aggregates of Clinging and calls it "self." Ego is bound in ignorance (avidya), bound by the Wheel of Rebirth and Suffering (samsara); ego is not released (moksha) by the ultimate (nirvana).

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