By Eckhart Tolle; A Plume Book; @2005; 313 pages.
I read this a while back when it first came out, and thought it was ok—I don’t think I was awakened. I opened it up again to see if maybe this time would be different.
The first thing that surprised me was how fast I zipped through it. I can’t pinpoint where the content was particularly compelling, but one word seamlessly led to another and away I went!
Toward the beginning, Tolle says that mankind is in the process of awakening. This book isn’t meant to convince, it’s meant to awaken.
You cannot fight against the ego and win, just as you cannot fight against darkness. The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.
[I’m feeling better already.]
Tolle gets my attention when he says this: “The first part of that truth is the realization that the ‘normal’ state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness.”
He goes on to say: “Certain teachings at the heart of Hinduism perhaps come closest to seeing this dysfunction as a form of collective mental illness. They call it maya, the veil of delusion.”
“According to Buddha, the human mind in its normal state generates dukkha [not to be confused with dookie—my words, not his, but still fitting, I think], which can be translated as suffering, unsatisfactoriness, or just plain misery.”
The great Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, says: “The mind is maya.”
[My mind is maya.]
Tolle says that “sin” is a word that is greatly misunderstood. “Literally translated from the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, to sin means to miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target, so to sin means to miss the point of human existence. It means to live unskillfully, blindly, and thus to suffer and cause suffering.
Science and technology have magnified the destructive impact that the dysfunction, that collective insanity, can be most clearly recognized. A further factor is that this dysfunction is actually intensifying and accelerating.
Another aspect of the collective dysfunction of the human mind is the unprecedented violence that humans are inflicting on other life forms and the planet itself—the destruction of oxygen-producing forests and other plant and animal life; ill-treatment of animals in factory farms; and poisoning of rivers, oceans, and air. Driven by greed, ignorant of their connectedness to the whole, humans persist in behavior that, if continued unchecked, can only result in their own destruction.
In our destruction. I like how Tolle sets himself apart: “in their own destruction.” Almost out of harm’s way.
Tolle says: “If the history of humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived ‘enemies’ —his own unconsciousness projected outward.”
Who is this Tolle guy anyway?
The back of the book says he is a contemporary spiritual teacher who travels extensively. The inside cover doesn’t reveal much more. An enigma, I suppose. Is “traveling extensively” credential enough to diagnose the collective of humanity with insanity? Sure, I was thinking it too, but I’m just a wabbit who has only traveled marginally.
Reading on…Gautama Siddharth (Buddha) is said to be the first to come to this conclusion, 2,600 years ago in India. Or, maybe it was China’s Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching.
I admit, I’m liking Tolle. He doesn’t hide behind “culture” to excuse suffering. He is a proponent of self evaluation and change.
He says that through organized religions, people “could make themselves ‘right’ and others ‘wrong’ and thus define their identity through their enemies, the ‘others,’ the ‘nonbelievers’ or the ‘wrong believers’ who not infrequently they saw themselves justified in killing.”
A dim little light came on for me when I read the following paragraph:
He [Jean-Paul Sartre] looked at Descartes’ statement “I think, therefore I am” very deeply and suddenly realized, in his own words, “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.” What did he mean by that? When you are aware that you are thinking, that awareness is not part of thinking. It is a different dimension of consciousness. And it is that awareness that says “I am.” If there were nothing but thought in you, you wouldn’t even know you are thinking. You would be like a dreamer who doesn’t know he’s dreaming. You as identified with every thought as the dreamer is with every image in the dream. Many people still live like that, like sleepwalkers, trapped in old dysfunctional mind-sets that continuously re-create the same nightmarish reality. When you know you are dreaming, you are awake within the dream. Another dimension of consciousness has come in.
Tolle explains that complaining works to strengthen the ego (not a good thing) and when someone or something is wrong and you recognize that, it makes you feel you are right. Tolle echos the ideas expressed by Dostoevsky when he says that “by far the greater part of violence that humans have inflicted on each other is not the work of criminals or the mentally deranged, but of normal, respectable citizens in the service of the collective ego.”
Here “normal” equates to “insane.” And what lies at the root of insanity? “Complete identification with thought and emotion, that is to say, ego.”
While reading this, I continue to think back to my questions regarding the economy of New Guinea and how it was disrupted by discovery by the outside world in the book Lost in Shangri-La. My question was, and is, is war really necessary? Economically? Also, I can’t help but think about recent news events. The two brothers who devastated so many lives in Boston, but also ruined their own. And for what? For ego? In the service of their unconscious pain body? What could they have hoped to accomplish with that act? It makes no sense to me. I see the face of that 19 year old and my heart goes out to his parents, and yes, to him as well. What happened? I want so much to think he didn’t do it and we have convicted him too soon (outside the courts), but then if it wasn’t him, it was someone. Someone did this. But why? And how?
Tolle has this to offer:
A collective ego manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego, such as the need for conflict and enemies, the need for more, the need to be right against others who are wrong, and so on. Sooner or later, the collective will come into conflict with other collectives, because it unconsciously seeks conflict and it needs opposition to define its boundary and thus its identity.
Tolle’s discussion of the pain body and how it feeds the ego is interesting. I think I struggle with some of this stuff. I liked and identified with what he had to say about time:
Time is what the ego lives on. The stronger the ego, the more time takes over your life. Almost every thought you think is then concerned with past or future, and your sense of self depends on the past for your identity and on the future for its fulfillment.
The main way to disable the ego, according to Tolle, is to accept what is and what comes, regardless of whether your reaction makes a judgement of good or bad. Since the ego identifies with stuff, it would also seem that cutting back on one’s belongings might help. But Tolle doesn’t say this. It’s just my idea.
As I read Tolle, I slip into a reverie of what life might be like to live closer to nature, with significantly fewer belongings and significantly fewer obligations. Would my world be enlarged or depleted? And my ego?
To awaken from the dream is our purpose now. When we are awake within the dream, the ego-created earthdrama comes to an end and the more benign and wondrous dream arises. This is the new earth.
This is a lot for my Western mind to take in. But if I understand Tolle correctly, the idea is to be present in each moment. Experience “now,” no matter what is happening now. Right now, you are reading my blog. There is a strange temporal relationship between my thoughts and yours. I am communicating with you from the past. You are reading my thoughts in your now. I am thinking about your actions and reactions in my future.
When I picked up this book, I came to it with the assumption that everyone’s life purpose is different. But not so per Tolle. Everyone has the same internal purpose in life—that is to awaken. Awakening means to be able to distinguish between the constant inner dialog we all experience—thoughts—and ourselves as the thinkers. Basically, we are not our thoughts. If your purpose is anything other than that, it will be thwarted by time and will eventually result in sadness.
So, curing cancer, ending poverty, building a fortune—anything of that nature no matter how altruistic, is the work of the ego. Anything you are doing in the present moment is your purpose, even if you’re sharpening a pencil. When you move on to something else, that will be your external purpose. And so forth. The point is to be conscious of what you are as you do whatever it is. Tolle says that whatever you do you should do it in a state of acceptance, enthusiasm, or enjoyment; otherwise, stop doing it.
I recommend this book for anyone having a problem with excess seriousness. It’s a lot of food for thought. I’m not sure I got it all. When I was in college and having a rough day, I would often go to a certain fountain and stare at the water. My mind would clear and peace would descend. Sort of like a serving of broccoli, everyone probably needs a serving of peace, so many grams a day.