- 01 Nov 10
Are tree-hugging gurus the new rock stars? It's hard to argue with the evidence
Next month an unlikely kind of superstar will play a sold out RDS for three days on the trot.
Eckhart Tolle is, for want of a better term, a new age spiritual guru whose book The Power Of Now became a sleeper publishing sensation after it was championed by Oprah Winfrey. To date he's sold about five million books, and a series of 'webinars' and TV specials have made him a household name.
Tolle's distilled message? 'You are not your mind'. His doctrine espouses turning off the mental monkey chatter, the mind''s compulsion to identify itself with thought rather than being, and his writings draw on a fusion of Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism, Biblical and pantheist doctrines – with maybe a healthy dollop of the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows' thrown in for seasoning.
Tolle, now in his early 60s, grew up in Germany, and was prone to debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety until one night in London, at the age of 29, he was awoken from sleep and experienced a sort of epiphany.
“I couldn’t live with myself any longer,” he told the Daily Telegraph magazine in 2003. “And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness”, just observing and watching.”
Tolle spent the next few years living as a near vagrant, sitting on park benches and watching the river flow. His family thought he'd lost his marbles. On his return from the long grass, he began work as a spiritual counselor.
Much of Tolle's teachings sound simplistic and self evident – but then most good ideas do. Clock onto YouTube and you'll see a turtle-like geezer with a computer nerd haircut and questionable taste in waistcoats. But watch him speak for more than a few minutes and one registers a droll, understated wit, a kind of Beckettian spiritual stand-up comedy.
Here we remember an exchange between Leonard Cohen and Swedish journalist Stina Lundberg. The subject under discussion was Leonard's Retreat to Mount Baldy in California to study under his Zen master Roshi. The interviewer asked her subject what Roshi cured him of. Said Leonard, 'The illusion I was sick.'