I may have once appeared as if endorsing Eckhart Tolle, by pointing out perhaps negligible similarities between Tolle and Muho. Muho wrote to me once that he does not know why his own meditative practice worked for him. Such awareness about uncertainty and such honesty about it are consistent with Zen, in my eyes. Tolle basically claims his way as the only true way for everybody.
Tolle’s similarities with Muho were mainly being German and having spent years meditating in public parks. A few quotes promised that Tolle may perhaps present the core messages of wisdoms like Zen, stripped from nonsense, perhaps bringing it into a form more acceptable to a modern individual, much like I try. That Oprah Winfrey endorsed his book “The Power of Now” should have been sufficient warning, but I did not heed that warning.
Enlightening Buddhism: Muho Noelke, German physics and philosophy student turned Japanese Zen Master overseeing Antai-ji, a Buddhist monastery. This guy did not just accidentially 'bang his head' (explanation see below) like Tolle had the rare fortune.
The foreword is written by some Dicarlo and is pure mysticism and pseudoscience so silly, it even includes non-locality nonsense of a “physicist” I once kicked out of my comment sections. I was half in shock, and half of me still held on to hope: “How could Tolle allow such ridiculous pseudoscience in front of his book? Is this the original copy; does Tolle know about it?” Soon it became clear that the foreword fits, but pseudoscientific “high frequency energy” woo is not the book’s worst problem.
There is religious craziness, but it is not just pure metaphysical religious craziness. Actually, that stuff is at times as good as some of the explanations around Zen, for example, the way he claims to be the second coming of Christ (not Jesus) is brilliant – not at all the usual nonsense of for example Australia’s AJ Jesus and Mary. But there is the type of ugly right-wing religious craziness similar to what is quite prominent in the US, off-topic conservative nonsense.
There is bad philosophy (what Descartes meant by “cogito ergo sum”), distortions of “The Buddha” and bible passages, naïve creationism at points, anti-intellectual bashing of his own understandings of “communism” or “modern art”, women are emotional, hysterical things, heterosexuality the cosmic unification of opposite poles, little thought given to homosexuality. It is thus not surprising that he regurgitates ‘war on drugs’ misinformation, but Tolle is thereby doubly hypocritical, because:
While Muho got to his insights via years of disciplined exercise, Tolle obtained his awakening accidentally due to some sort of seizure, likely involving his temporal lobe, brought on by intense depression when he was 29 years old. It gave him, and in extreme strength and duration as far as he claims to remember, that whoa-all-is-connected feeling and related epiphanies which regular people must use “drugs” for in order to achieve in the necessary intensity and frequency to trigger lasting positive change.
Tolle understands, and puts into impressively moving prose at times, that mind mechanisms like our inner voice enslave us, and that this is an important component of depression, a growing problem. However, Tolle does not grasp that this is a socially evolved feature and that we are primates with a biological history which must all be taken into account in order to properly understand the mechanisms.
Our identity seems unified, but is fractionated, fuzzy. Tolle teaches that there is a “true self” and “true consciousness” and everything else is “false consciousness” and “ego”, by which he means “false self”. Tolle mainly insists on reducing attention and self-identification to the present, by which he basically means the specious present, namely the about 100 to 500 milliseconds over which phenomenal experience seems to be presented in moments. Identities that are meaningful over longer time scales, like me listening to what I am talking and not quite liking it, or the author of this post for example, including revisions over several weeks, meaning all the socially functional identities, are “false self” according toTolle. I honestly discussed that the distancing from the most troubling aspects of our identity is partially an anti-social act (see also on ‘suicidal philosophy’ and psychopathic/autistic analysis). Tolle is clueless about how his main insight fits into the world.
For Tolle, taking in the beauty of a flower is heaven, but thinking abstract thoughts is “false”. Zen understands: You may find beauty in your thoughts, say when resolving a koan; there is nothing “false” about them, nothing that makes them less valid as your feelings. Feeling the meaning of my thoughts may not have the illusionary “right there” directness of a patch of yellow on a flower. However, that “directness” is in a sense “false”, illusionary, which is part of the reason for the term ‘specious present’.
Tolle thinks that our mind being busy simulating future and remembering past gives a distorted view on the present (“So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it.”). No, this all evolved precisely because, and natural selection thus proves, we get a less distorted view of the present, in fact, we are thereby not just better prepared for the present, but we get a view of it at all. Present is only available via a pattern recognition formed through the past.
He does not know about simple psychology such as body language; he thinks confident people emit some mysterious radiation. He over-generalizes, claims everybody else has his problems, the main one being unable to stop inner dialogue; that everybody is as unable as he was to find the off-switch. Worse, he claims that his way is the only one, for all, everybody with any problem. However, any particular meditative practice can worsen or even trigger problems, like depression or psychosis, or swings in bipolar patients. For many, meditation just does not work! Who is Tolle to claim that they are not meditating correctly or are simply not enough in the present – are we to do it in agony until we have a seizure like he did?
Of course he would say “no”, but he effectively claims that there is no alternative. His sort of meditation is a particular, unfocussed one, focusing on breathing only in the beginning, but else mainly focusing on not focusing on past or future. He explains little acceptable about why this should be better than other kinds of meditation. He just writes sentences like “This is the essence of meditation”.
Being in the now, so he claims, connects you with the true joy, a meta-happiness without the opposite of unhappiness, and moreover, since this is all godly and spiritual, a new age of peace and elevated consciousness begins (“This is the end of all arguments and power games, …”). If the now is joy for you, be happy, but it is also the state that a martial arts trained person accesses to become a killing machine like otherwise only psychopaths are able to. There is no pure “joy of being” automatically falling out – if that were the case, monks would be happier, meditation more popular. There is no indication for that the masses are waking up rather than being ever more efficiently numbed and distracted.
Cognitive therapy, mindfulness approaches, positive psychology, these are all important and useful, reasonably well scientifically explored and widely known. These connections could support his few interesting and worthy suggestions, but Tolle never mentions any of that. He instead thinks that “watching the thinker” is his grand idea, but this is an old idea picked up by many, including other shady religious like Carlos Castaneda or L Ron Hubbard.
The picture of I myself, a wise part of me, as if kind of hovering behind me, observing, steering - it is a meaningful picture in several ways, though of course in some sense worse than body-mind dualism. I like the picture myself, because it is then obvious why you need to train such monitoring modules in your brain, why you need to take thoughts away from simulating potential futures (daydreaming) especially as long as the monitoring capabilities are not exercised enough to work unconsciously in parallel, parallelized and automatic like the task of walking (while ruminating about past or future) is for an adult: A learned skill one does not think about when doing. See - everything could be explained nicely without pseudo-Christian divine babble.
“Die before you die”! Every wise man understood that; this has been said so many times, so many ways, even I have written about suicide targeted at certain parts of our modular identities, aiming to kill the very same mind modules that Tolle wants to kill. Why does Tolle turn it into some eternal life promising christian mysticism - for the mainstream audience?
There is anti-intellectualism; the mind cannot grasp, gotta feel it, modern art is soulless, and anti-psychiatry much like with scientology and Osho and so on. Not unusual for somebody who plays the medical quack’s large numbers game (though he may do it unaware of what it is):
Do whatever nonsense; likely 10% of your customers will even just due to random variations feel impressive improvements, some will stay and swear by your method because it now works on the conditioned response level for them (dog, bell and saliva kind of stuff), and you use those suckers' testimony to attract more audience.
Tolle tries hard to trigger the all-is-connected feeling in his audience. Giving MDMA would be more honest and effective than peddling what Zen calls ‘satori’ as the ultimate high. Tolle may be a clever cheat, but I still lean toward a naïve guy with brain problems that are not helping his intellectual capacity. There are many paragraphs that I find important and correct and somewhat better put than anywhere else I have seen. But it cannot be recommended to who does not already know it better than Tolle.
Socially selected functions take over our primate minds so fast that we are not adapted to them; we can hardly live withour own minds. Tolle thinks that suddenly it will turn into heaven rather than worsen faster via assimilation with technology. The “playful joyous energy” that people with Tolle’s problems feel in his ‘Now’ is partially due to self-acceptance. It is thus based on our need for acceptance, being that socially co-evolved silly source of suffering that also Tolle wants to switch off. Not care about acceptance or trigger and enjoy acceptance, self-acceptance; which one is “true”, which one “false”?
Sex is taboo, so Tolle goes never beyond platitudes. But this is not acceptable for the topic at hand. For many, sexual thoughts interfere with attempts of meditation. Masturbation’s serotonin/dopamine high, much like a crack high, leads to a crash, especially with the depressed, and this can worsen depression. For a true master, there should be no problem in objectively, in down to earth manner discussing how trying to abstain from masturbation during the day, not for any purist reasons but simply with regard to the serotonin/dopamine household and suchlike, started as a mere fun-exercise in trying to enjoy the feeling of hunger as one puts of eating or masturbation for perhaps just a few hours at first, can help some with depression. This can be much better than trying to meditate, which so easily leads the beginner only to sexual fantasies or sleep. A master today, in my eyes, would talk about such things.
A religious purist may hold that masturbation is wrong and false. He judges and commands. A new-age follower needs explanation independent of authority and may talk of sexual energy that is channeled into creativity, and so, many turn away in fear of scented candles and tarot cards. The scientistic justifier is also an explainer, describing in a medical paradigm, using words like ‘neurotransmitter’ and ‘brain plasticity’, perhaps even a biased study misinterpreted. I stay with some of the latter, because it speaks to me.