Beyond Eckhart Tolle’s New Earth
In his popular book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose¸ Eckhart Tolle lays out a vision of a new earth that connects the inner world of spirit with the outer world of physical form. “A ‘new heaven,'” he writes, “is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and a ‘new earth’ is its reflection in the physical world.” (p. 23, emphasis removed from original.)
Following the tradition of Eastern religion, Mr. Tolle identifies the inner world of spirit (or consciousness) as ultimate reality and the external world of “form” as merely a temporal parade of images. The key to awakening, in his mind, is to tear the individual ego away from its fixation on not only these forms but from thought itself, and focus instead on the pure state of Being.
While to some this may seem like so much new-age mumbo jumbo, it is similar to much of Eastern thought. For example, Buddhism teaches that what we call the material world and even our own selves have no permanent existence but are doomed to pass by and wither away. Only a stream of consciousness (or becoming) is real. Consciousness continually re-appears in new bodies that undergo a never-ending process of rebirth. Nirvana, to the Buddhist, is a release from defining who you are through an identification with the material world — your clothes, house, cars, nationality, and even your very self or ego. It is a pure identification with the underlying stream of becoming.
Mr. Tolle spends a great deal of A New Earth discussing how much of human misery comes about because the human mind is unaware that Being alone is real. Unconsciousness, to him, is a dysfunctional state where the mind is separated from its true identity. A person thinks it is a fundamentally a separate being, a discrete actor in life’s drama, when it fact we instead are one Being. Therefore, we should all focus on this cosmic root of Being and not define or limit ourselves by the forms — the physical world — outside the window. While this again may seem mystical, it is not that odd. To have a sense of what he is talking about here simply close your eyes; block out any sensation of the physical world, stop thinking and dwell on the subtle force within. I could be wrong, but that subtle force is Being, and the better one is at eliminating all external or internal distractions, the closer one gets to experiencing “pure Being.”
Mr. Tolle says that to create a “new earth” we must break away from thinking that the outer world of form defines who we are; we must instead be conscious of the unified state of Being. Humankind, to him, thus evolves to the point where we carry out activities in the world aligned with our true nature. He writes, “Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose — what you do — with your inner purpose — awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you into this world. It flows into our thoughts and inspires them It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it. ” (p. 294)
In this blog, I want to comment upon one element of Tolle’s philosophy dealing with his denigration of “form.”
Tolle believes that the dissolution of “form” or the break in identifying what we are with form is a good thing. Thus, to him, old physical age carries the unappreciated benefit of experiencing the flowering of an inner spiritual dimension. The bodily form withers, the spiritual essence grows. (“It is precisely through the onset of old age, through loss or personal tragedy, that the spiritual dimension would traditionally come into people’s lives. This is to say, their inner purpose would emerge only as their outer purpose collapsed and the shell of ego would begin to crack open.”) (p. 284).
I think that Tolle has missed the point here. What Tolle calls “form” is the external physical world, a three-dimensional world of wonder as seen through the eyes of the most ardent materialist or religious believer. In my view (and as I argue in The Heaven at the End of Science), the natural living world and the far-reaching cosmos overhead is the highest achievement of the dreaming mind of God. Belief systems that want us to return to God (or ultimate Being, consciousness, etc.) by ignoring the outer world of “form” and re-entering the black nothingness of original Being make the correct first step but then forget that this ultimate Being, through some unknowable power, has projected a three-dimensional world from the void. To scientific materialists, this creation event is the Big Bang that occurred outside of the mind and comes toward the mind. To dream theorists like me, the creation event is an external reflection of the inner states of Being.
Under either the materialist or dream theorist standpoint, the question is whether you prefer to dwell immersed in a black sea of nothingness or experience a real-seeming three dimensional world? Or, put more simply, do you want to carry out the process of life in a three-dimensional physical body (form), or go backward to the black void and simply ponder Being?
To be clear, I agree with Tolle’s first step and conclusion: ultimate reality is the One and there is a unified consciousness underlying the world and all beings. Furthermore, I agree that everyone should ultimately identify with this core reality of existence. But this same, undifferentiated reality is in the midst of a grand dream, the purpose of which, in my opinion, is to escape from nothing, to defeat the darkness, and to carry out in physical form the oneness that underlies the inner world. Being has poured itself into forms. These forms are living things; living things want to keep on living, keep on being.
The same point applies to Tolle’s denunciation of “ego” or the differentiated “I.” In my view, the one mind differentiated itself into separate beings for companionship. Without differentiation, we’d be just staring at a mirror image of ourselves forever. Thus, the mind differentiates into separate egos, but I agree that these different egos then need to appreciate the unity of the world in relating to others and the world at large. Big mind, small ego.
The “new heaven” is not just a state of internal global awareness as Tolle appears to be saying; rather, it is a state of internal global awareness where the “enlightened beings” realize that to make real the dream of heaven they need to act as one, put down the weapons and build, with our arms, legs, and sweat, a real heaven out of the physical forms that make up the world.
In the end, I disagree with Tolle’s conception of a New Earth because he forgets that the inner world of spirit and the outer world of form are the same thing, and he shortchanges the incredible miracle that is the world of “form.” Like all of us though, Tolle shows the mind becoming aware of itself and doing its best to describe the view on the climb up the ladder of consciousness.
More in further blogs.
Comments, questions, great thoughts from all of you who have read A New Earth?