Friday, 8 June 2012

For whom the Bell Tolles

In my view, Eckhart Tolle has some useful things to say regarding present moment awareness and so forth. However, when he ventures into the "Consciousness is evolving" realm things get troubling.

The troubling aspects are insightfully described by "David the Blade" at the Guruphiliac blog:

"I wouldn't quite let Tolle off the hook for self-mythologization. Don't be deceived by a warm, loving and apparently "humble" persona into thinking that self-mythologization, and sacro-mythic inflation are not present.

A person like Tolle who has had an experience like he has had, is almost inevitably going to become sacro-mythically inflated if he cannot properly contextualize his internal experience in a way that is **completely** free of narcissism and self-overestimation. However, almost every well-known teacher falls into a trap of inflated self-view born out of interpreting their experience sacro-mythically, as if they are some kind of special great light to the world. In other words, if his self-interpretation is sacro-mythical, some degree of narcissism and inflation seems to be almost inevitable.

Narcissism is not all mean and aggressive, and doesn't always have the appearance of being other-excluding. There is a loving, kind, joyous narcissism that is narcissism by the very fact of the bearer's inflated self-view arising, ultimately, from a tendancy to view oneself as the 'mythic' center of the world (or, as having a special connection to the mythic center of the world). This aspect of narcissism can fuse and lock into an inflated sacro-mythical self-image (as some kind of savior or bringer of light) around the time of enlightenment. It seems pretty clear to me that this has happened to Tolle. Witness his self-image as continuing the great work of J. Krishnamurti, one extremely sacro-mythically inflated dude. The people to whom this happens have no idea that they have become significantly inflated, and their followers are even further from seeing the reality of it. The traditions are typically no help in this regard, because they know nothing about it, only knowing the grosser, non-pietic forms of narcissism, and indeed, even their mythical founders were probably sacro-mythically inflated also. Or, at least, our images of them are sacro-mythically inflated."

In investigating the narcisisstic attitude which may accompany profound realisation, perhaps an analogy can be made with the famous inversion by Marx of the Absolute Idealism of Hegel in which the dialectic " must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell."

In the case of someone like Tolle, it may be the case that they are very close to having clear insight into the nature of things, apart from still being afflicted with what the Buddha called bhava tanha or "craving to be".

So being close but not quite there, an individual who has gone through a deep and profound mystical experience such as Tolle appears to have had may conclude that All is Self, or:

I am Everything

Such a realisation may lead to the person becoming a guru or highly charismatic leader, if they are talented. If they are not so talented and are unable to make the world conform with their attitude they may end up with a psychotic illness, or perhaps manage to fixate their feelings of omnipotence onto another guru. Or perhaps they just come back down to earth. I don't know.

Anyway, following Marx and the Buddha, if the craving to be is overcome and the realisation that "I am everything" is stood on its head, there is the insight that:

I am Nothing.

.. . and then one gets on with the things that need doing.

So we have on the one hand the right wing gurus such as Echart Tolle, Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen and so forth who think that "All is Self" and the world can be changed without much practical action because "consciousness is evolving".

On the other hand, we have those who realise that the world is only changed for the better by practical action.


  1. Just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know that I am so happy to see that your blog exists. Marxism and Buddhism are both extremely dear to me, and to my mind they go hand in hand. Thank you!

  2. Hi Jiminy
    Glad you like the blog and thanks for your comment!