Oprah Winfrey introduced a new spiritual teacher into the mainstream of American life when she placed Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose on her book list. Tolle was born in Germany and educated in England at the Universities of London and Cambridge. He lived most of his life in the shadows, and struggled with his own darkness until he had an awakening that changed his life and became the basis for his spiritual mentoring and writing. His book The Power of Now was #1 on the New York Times best seller list, and his book A New Earth has sold over 3.5 million copies. The popularity of his books reveals the vast spiritual hunger in the West. Our money, power, possessions, affluences, and entertainment have not been able to numb the deep inner long and pain most people feel. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”.
Tolle offers in his book an intriguing blend of spiritual thoughts and ideas. He samples from all forms of religions thought, and likens himself to being a disciple of Jesus and other great teachers like Buddha. He believes in his struggle for meaning and purpose in life that he has stumbled onto the truth deep within each and every one of us. Truth cannot be fully expressed in words, or ideas. Truth dwells in that secret place beyond words and ideas deep within the human soul.
My concern with his writings is the fact that he offers a path to purpose and awakening foreign to the truth found in Jesus. I have chosen to follow Jesus so I take issue with Tolle on a number of fronts. I would suspect that Tolle would claim to be a follower of Jesus of sorts, but he certainly does not see Jesus as Jesus saw Himself. As an example of his interpretation of Jesus’ words Tolle writes:
“The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere, you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is Truth. Jesus tried to convey that when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I AM, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact. He speaks of the life that you are. Some Christian mystics have called it the Christ within; Buddhists call it your Buddha nature; for Hindus, it is Atman, the indwelling God. When you are in touch with that dimension within yourself—and being in touch with it is your natural state, not some miraculous achievement—all your actions and relationships reflect the oneness with all life that you sense deep within. This is love…”
As you can see Tolle appears to understand Jesus to be speaking of a spiritual experience Jesus was having within himself rather than the kind of relationship he desired to have with his followers. For those more versed in the words of Jesus it is clear that Tolle has misunderstood the very nature of what Jesus was saying. To make this point, look at the words of Jesus in their original context as reported in the Gospel of John in chapter 14:1-6 (NRSV).
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?*
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’*
5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In context, it is rather clear Jesus is describing HIMSELF as the way, the truth and the life. He proclaims “no one come to the Father except through me”. I believe Tolle is right when he wrote “These words of Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to Truth, if understood correctly”. The sad reality is that from my perspective Tolle does not understand at all what Jesus was talking about. Like many other “new age” spiritualist who are trying to create “many ways” to Truth, he colored and crafted the words of Jesus to fit his version of truth, rather than letting Jesus be “the Truth” that leads to life.
The sad reality is millions of people are clinging to teachers like Tolle for spiritual help. We need to redouble our efforts to share the hope that is found in Jesus alone. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” and I pray many will discover Him as their Lord and Savior by faith.