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Good self-help, but as "manifesto" falls short.

Reblogged from Mainly Wallpaper:
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose - Eckhart Tolle

"A New Earth" is a heady little book which purports to "show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to our personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world." I would call this claim ambitious (and therefore egotistical) coming from any other man. But, because Mr. Tolle operates from the premise that he has harnessed his ego in the service of a greater good, that characterization would run counter to the spirit of the book, may seem unfair, and might even reveal me as one who has not transcended his ego.


I guess ultimately the question is: has Mr. Tolle correctly gauged the utility of the ego? I think it fair to say that he feels the ego has no utility, except that eradicating the ego at every turn allows us to come closer to our higher purpose - less ego, and more spirit, or, in his words, Consciousness, also known as Presence. Presence can be defined as "consciousness without thought." Indeed, Tolle seems to distrust thought almost as much as ego, which is odd for an author churning out 300-page treatises. How can this be accomplished except with a great deal of rigorous thought? Another oddity: his fixation on the banishment of the ego from all utility, except that of affirming its opposite (spirit) resembles a Catholic argument that Error has only one use -- that it helps to define and develop Truth. But Tolle is no Catholic, although he does use many of Jesus' quotes to good effect.


The problem that I have with his premise is that his rejection of the collective ego necessarily rejects a great deal of personal ego: the unique qualities that each of us bring into this world, and the special path that we follow because we were born in a particular place and time. I feel that all of these attributes should not be discounted as mere grains of sand on an infinite beach. Surely they must be part of a higher purpose, a personal destiny, which is also worthwhile. At the very least they should be celebrated as defining characteristics of who we are, and how we learn, and they often lead to the acquisition of habits that further refine who we are. We shape our habits, and then our habits shape us. And this process is not pernicious, but developmental.


To turn at every opportunity and attempt to jettison this individuality (that's what Mr. Tolle seems to be advocating) seems ungrateful at best and wrong-headed at worst. The ego is not only something to react against. It is also something to understand, come to terms with, learn from, and be grateful for. One need not be a disciple of Ayn Rand to feel that a strong ego is a good thing, on balance.


Yet Mr. Tolle finds no place in the world for the ego. Perhaps this explains why the thrust of the book is toward the otherworldly. For example, he observes on pg. 162 that "...when you realize that pain-bodies unconsciously seek more pain, that is to say, that they want something bad to happen, you will understand that many traffic accidents are caused by drivers whose pain-bodies are active at the time." Tolle's conception is that unconsciousness (overt identification with the ego) creates a negative energy field and an accumulation of pain (the so-called pain-body).


Okay, someone's off-kilter energy field or pain-body may be at work, but couldn't these accidents be more simply explained as a consequence of jackass drivers? Left untouched in this discussion of road rage is how Mr. Tolle or the highway patrol or a judge could possibly know when a pain-body is or is not active and therefore responsible for the accident. This may be why the book is found in the "spiritual" and not the "science" section of the bookstore.


On the positive side, Tolle has a crackerjack team of editors. I never found a typo in this 300-page book. His prose style is effective, if a bit odd. Once he starts, his batteries never run down. He forges constantly ahead with hundreds upon hundreds of small words, scarcely stopping to summarize or collect the argument. This style reminds me of a friend back in the early 70s who was equally adept at words and philosophical argument, though his words were longer. After indulging in a helping hand from the pharmaceutical industry he would hold forth on how a certain spinning wheel was within another spinning wheel, which was within yet another other spinning wheel. He never summarized, explained, or stopped talking. Tolle's treatise is somewhat like that, although to be fair he also unearths many fascinating examples of how we trip ourselves up when we pick the wrong objectives. There are also several stories containing pithy lessons from enlightened Easterners.


Verdict: as a self-help book, this is not bad, and better than most. Judged as a spiritual manifesto, will it really help save the earth and build a better world? I find that unlikely. It was published in 2005, and its predecessor "The Power of Now" was published 15 years ago. The last time I checked, the world seemed to be revolving as it usually does, egos, pain-bodies and all.


His fact-checkers let him down in the sections about religious intolerance (pg. 155-7). He states that "...it seems certain that during a three-hundred-year period between three and five million women were tortured and killed by the 'Holy Inquisition'..." Tolle goes on to equate the gravity of this persecution to the Jewish Holocaust during WWII. Without pause he next compares these twin tragedies to witch-burning, and explains why that phenomenon caught on: "What is it that suddenly made men feel threatened by the female?" he asks. He then answers himself: "The evolving ego in them. It knew it could gain full control of our planet only through the male form, and to do so, it had to render the female powerless. In time, the ego also took over most women, although it could never become as deeply entrenched in them as in men."


Where do I start? Popular history books most often cite from 30,000 to 50,000 for all burned at the stake during the 300 years of the Spanish Inquisition, and specialists come up with even lower numbers. There were other inquisitions, but the sum totals could not have been as high as Tolle claims, and they were not all or even mostly women. See Telchin (2004); and Pasachoff and Littman (2005). The slapdash comparison of the results of the various Inquisitions of the Catholic Church to the horrific extermination of millions of Jews during the Second World War is distasteful, to say the least. As for witch-hunts, certainly they were a real and regrettable phenomenon. Yet, while there were many witches burned at the stake in Europe and America, these numbers, too, have become inflated due to sloppy research, latter-day hysteria, and self-help authors stretching a point. Most professional researchers figure around 50,000 victims, with some few supporting lower figures of around 30,000, and some few who believe there were as many as 100,000 or so.


As for women having less ego than men: Mr. Tolle does not know the women I know.