The first question I wonder about is whether his emphasis on oneness with the divine and being in the moment will totally take care of the problems normal people encounter in modern life. Being totally one with the divine obviously works for monks, especially Indian monks whose emphasis is on transcending the world and getting enlightened. But modern people with responsibilities have entirely different concerns like taking care of their children and making sure they keep their jobs. To understand my wondering, it is necessary to quickly look at Tolle’s teachings.
Tolle’s most basic emphasis is on the power of the present moment. He says we should “allow the present moment to be… Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” (PN, p. 35-6) He extends this radical acceptance of the now to everything, even the death of those close to you. We think of death as tragic “but it is only tragic because you projected a separate self where there was none.” (PN, p. 100)
Being in the present does transform some things, as superfluous worldly things can be seen as trivial when one is in the spiritual present. But Tolle so emphasizes being in the now and how it will “miraculously transform your whole life.” He says we have to get out of the past and the future, and just be in the now as the “past and future obviously have no reality of their own.” (PN, p. 50)
Tolle is right that too many people get caught up in the future, thinking about how they are going to acquire material things or get a relationship, and this pulls them out of the joy of the present moment. The question is if he is going to other the extreme and neglecting the future and past totally? Could it be that if we are on our spiritual path, the future can give us energy to do things in the now because that future connects us to our spiritual path? For example, after I finished raising my three children fulltime and the youngest was enrolled in first grade, I intuited it was my spiritual path to get a scholarship to go to graduate school. To get this scholarship, I needed to intensively study for the Graduate Record Exam or GREs. In fact, to get a good score I would have to study eight hours a day for months. Even though I would ordinarily find it extremely boring to study such useless material, and a part of me wanted to just live in the now and enjoy the now by doing something else, I did not do that. I knew that if I did not intensely study for the GREs my future would be worse. This idea gave me energy in the now by connecting myself to the future. And because I was connected to my higher spiritual purpose and my future, I became energized when I studied and even felt joyful. This was something my mind helped do as it enlarged my present by connecting the present to the future. Only if I concentrated on how real the future was, could I be spiritually joyful in the present.
I’ve blogged a short extract of a long critique – click on link to read the full article -it won’t spoil your enjoyment of Tolle but it might constitute a (re)-balancing in some aspects of the overall teaching.