I’ve come to believe that any public subject matter will eventually be attacked by a variety of critics. This is not an inherently bad thing: criticism or skepticism can sometimes be self-protecting and can also serve a gatekeeper function, separating the proverbial wheat from chaff.
There is criticism however, and lots of it, that comes from an orientation of wanting to be disagreeable or to protect an ego conviction. This kind of criticism is ultimately okay too as people are entitled to express an opinion; but it sometimes deserves to be challenged, particularly where it’s quite misleading to the uninformed.
I have come across plenty of criticism of The Power of Now, a book written by Eckhart Tolle. The Power of Now can be reasonably described as a self-help manual and its point of view — in my opinion — is exceptionally honest, extremely helpful, and totally accurate.
The premise of The Power of Now boils down to this: thought is responsible for suffering. Is this in any way inaccurate or controversial? Only to those who are self-identified with their thinking and / or their emotions. People with these orientations wholly accept that their thinking and emotions represent their true self and are an accurate representation of life.
It’s the Rene Descartes adage: I think, therefore I am. This infers that thinking is something sacred that defines the self. Hogwash, I say. Thought can be a valuable tool but in the majority of people it has turned into a runaway train… an obsessive, incessant, and very damaging habit.
For those who are unconvinced that thinking is frequently toxic, consider how suffering occurs: An external stimulus happens. This stimulus is mentally labeled, often very quickly, as bad. This label is accepted as truth — this experience really is bad. A painful emotional response occurs as a result: despair, fear, sadness, anger, etc. Sometimes this process happens without external stimulus at all but thinking is always — always — essential to the occurrence of suffering.
Still don’t believe it? Prove me wrong. Monitor yourself for a time and document one case of suffering that is not accompanied by thought. In fact thought comes first, and then there is suffering. This is the way it always happens.
I’m not talking here about physical pain. Physical pain is a response to some form of distress within the body. I’m referring to suffering — an experience of anguish that is usually accompanied by emotion (emotion being a bodily reaction to thought).
Some may argue that suffering in certain cases is quite reasonable. This is not really the issue. If one wants to suffer he or she has that prerogative. But any suffering that is experienced will be the result of thinking. It’s a certainty. It cannot be any other way.
This is why suffering does not occur during unconsciousness, when there is no thinking occurring. Thought is the accompanying music to the stage production that is suffering.
Any criticism then of The Power of Now that argues against the book’s essential premise — suffering comes from thought — is simply not valid.
I have come across criticism as well that targets Eckhart Tolle personally, accusing him of being a profiteer or con artist, or launching some other personal attack. This amounts to a case of shooting the messenger: the critics don’t agree with or like Tolle’s teachings and so try to diminish him personally, hoping this will ultimately lessen the credibility of his message.
It’s a transparent effort and is clearly an attempt to try and protect one’s ego views. If Eckhart Tolle is right then I’ll be wrong and this represents a threat to my being. Interestingly Tolle discusses orientations like this within The Power of Now, and he’s spot on in his critique: it is unconscious (usually) ego protectionism that ultimately hurts most the individual engaged in it.
(Hostility harms its host first and last.)
Some have claimed that Tolle is a plagiarist because his teachings don’t originate from him. My response is so what if the teachings don’t originate from Tolle? Should a teaching be taught once and then never again? Tolle doesn’t claim the insights within The Power of Now are his original thoughts: these insights go back thousands of years, to The Buddha and even beyond, and Tolle says as much.
What Tolle does, very effectively, is to translate these insights into easily understood language and offer them to whomever is interested enough to learn. I’ve heard Tolle say, and he’s correct, that the type of insights The Power of Now provides used to be taught by masters to students over decades. These insights can now be had in a fraction of that time, thanks to Tolle and others like him passing information along. That’s not plagiarism, it’s sharing, and I believe it represents a great service.
If I have any criticism of The Power of Now it’s that various methods are offered for ending toxic thinking, which caused me some confusion and may affect others likewise. Should one use this method, that method, all of the methods being offered? This is a small critique however (I also found clarity when reading The Power of Now for a second time) particularly in comparison to the enormous insight and help The Power of Now provides.
Simply put, it’s a superb work.
Find The Power of Now Here.