I have been asked many times to comment on the best-selling book by Eckhart Tolle entitled A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. This book was released this past January and sales were boosted by a recommendation from Oprah Winfrey's book club. Oprah has also featured Tolle on her website and has promoted his teaching as one who offers insight into God. Earlier this year, I could walk into any bookstore and see a stand with this book at the front door. I noticed that it is still number 16 on the USA Today best sellers list.
So what do I think of the book?
1. It isn't as bad as I expected if read not as theology but as pop psychology. While Tolle portrays himself as an expert of sorts on world religion, he had some good things to say about how to help people. He has had some experience counseling others and I thought some of his advice was sound.
2. Tolle is a Buddhist, pure and simple. Of course, Buddhists always claim not to be a religion, which is absurd. This book and Tolle's other book, The Power of Now, are steeped in Buddhist philosophy. I don't think the emphasis on paying attention to the "now" is half bad advice, but some of what I call Buddhist double-talk is just too much to bear at times. It gives me a headache. For example,
It has been said "God is love" but that is not absolutely correct. God is the One Life in and beyond the countless forms of life. Love implies duality; lover and beloved, subject and object. So love is the recognition of oneness in the world of duality. This is the birth of God into the world of form. Love makes the world less worldly, less dense, more transparent to the divine dimension, the light of consciousness itself (page 106).
Huh? What did he just say? I know how Tolle would respond to my confusion: If I don't understand what he wrote, I am not enlightened. Well, let me start a not-enlightened club and be the president. But don't worry, Eckhart, I don't understand much of what the Dali Lama says or writes either.
3. Tolle's handling of Scripture, while appearing to be authoritative and authentic, is, well, it's Buddhist! He speaks of Scripture with such confidence but may I point out that when a Buddhist wants to make sense, they usually refer to the Bible, for nothing much else in their world is practical or makes much sense to the ear and mind of the everyday reader. It is interesting also that whenever Tolle wants to portray something negative about religion, he almost always refers to Christianity. Now I am not denying that there is much in "Christian" history that is not positive, but why not mention a Muslim once when talking about violence and religion? Didn't Islam invade Europe centuries before the Crusades? When's the last time your heard about a Buddhist hospital, school or orphanage?
4. Let's go back to Tolle's use of the Bible in his book. On page 184, he wrote this:
Jesus points to this when he says, "Be ye whole, even as your Father in Heaven is whole." The New Testament's "be ye perfect" is a mistranslation of the original Greek word, which means whole. This is to say, you don't need to become whole, but be what you already are -- with or without the pain body.
This is just one example of how Tolle misrepresents and complicates Scripture to justify what his own point of view. The only time I screamed when I listened to and read this book was when Tolle quoted the Bible to prove a point. As my former coach would have said, this guy is "a lost ball in tall weeds" when it comes to the Bible.
Contrast what Tolle wrote with what was written by William Hendriksen in his Commentary on Matthew (pages 317-318) and see who gives a plainer, easier-to-understand analysis:
In the present connection, however, "perfect" means "brought to completion, full-grown, lacking nothing." Jesus is saying to the people of that day, as well as to us now, that they and we should not be satisfied with half-way obedience to the law of love, as were the scribes and Pharisees, who never penetrated to the heart of the law. Though in a sense Jesus is here repeating the admonition implied in verse 45 ("that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven"), he now (here in verse 48) indicates even more definitely that it is the Father's perfection that we should strive to imitate, perfection here (as the preceding context indicates) in the love he shows to all. Is he not the One who causes his sun to rise on evil and good, and sends rain on righteous and unrighteous?
If Oprah wants to recommend someone who can provide clear and simple insight into God and His words, perhaps she should recommend Hendriksen and not Tolle! Maybe she should return to her Baptist roots instead of resorting to Buddhist weeds.
5. As a purpose teacher, and this book first caught my attention because it has purpose in the title, Tolle is true to Buddhism but untrue at the same time, which makes him a good Buddhist (confused? that's the whole point!). He would describe your purpose as so caught up in the "now" that your purpose is to read this blog entry. That is your purpose and that sounds Buddhist. When you are finished, you will find another purpose. If you never see this entry, it is because it is not part of your purpose. Huh? So my purpose is just to live in the now and not give any thought to tomorrow. This isn't true to Buddhism, for even the Buddhists talk about the eightfold path and one of the "paths" is what they refer to as "right livelihood." Yet this is what I have come to find when I search Buddhist material. They are committed to everything and nothing at the same time. Tolle would be of this same mindset.
All in all, I would not recommend this book if you are searching for your purpose, for there isn't much help on that front. I would recommend it if you want to keep up on what everyone else is reading and talking about in secular circles. I don't think Tolle's material is going to usher in a "new earth" any time soon, but I know that Jesus will come back to do that and, at that time, the eternal purpose for everyone will be made abundantly clear.