Program Particulars: The Power of Eckhart Tolle's Now

Program Particulars

Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

(01:25) Descartes' "I Think, Therefore I Am"

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), often called the father of modern philosophy, created a new way of thinking about philosophy and mathematics by rejecting the traditional, scholastic methods in which ideas were based on assumptions or emotional beliefs. He accepted only ideas which could be proven by direct observation. At the starting point of his methodology, Descartes begins with universal doubt and concludes there is only one thing that cannot be doubted, doubt itself. From this postulation comes the famous phrase, Cogito, ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am."

In his seminal work Meditations, written in Latin in 1641, Descartes observes:

I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.

Album art

(01:58–04:24) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale

(02:00) The Oprah Effect

In January 2008, Oprah Winfrey chose Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth as the first spirituality book selection for her widely popular book club, and the "Oprah effect" immediately followed. A New Earth became the fastest selling title in the history of the book club with over 3.5 million copies shipped in the first month after its selection.

With this pick, Oprah introduced a new element — a 10-week Webinar, where she and Tolle discussed a chapter of the book each week with an online audience. In the first week, Tolle led millions of viewers from several countries in silent meditation. By the third week, 11 million people were logging on. Overall, more than 15 hours of online seminars have been downloaded over 27 million times.

(04:36) Tolle's Early Life

Eckhart Tolle was raised in a Catholic family in Germany. At the age of 13, he moved to Spain to live with his father after his parents had separated. There he had what many would consider an unconventional upbringing — dropping out of school and studying topics of his "own particular interest." He returned to formal education in his twenties, studying at the universities of London and Cambridge. In a 2000 interview published in Dialogues with Emerging Spiritual Teachers, Tolle describes more about his early life and how he developed into a spiritual teacher.

Album art

(04:43–05:36) Music Element

"I. Pianos" from Serenada Schizophrana, performed by Danny Elfman

(06:12) A First Shift In Awareness

Tolle recounts the first experience he had of "the shift in identity from being the content of [my] mind to being the awareness in the background" through his observations of a woman he encountered on the London subway.

(12:38) A Dark Night of the Soul

Tolle's reference to "a dark night of the soul" comes from the writings of St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish mystic, poet, and Carmelite priest. People often borrow the phrase to describe a period of suffering and confusion in their lives; Tolle uses it to describe the depths of depression and despair that people experience before reaching a shift in consciousness where a permanent change occurs.

Mirabai Starr, a translator of John's writings and author of Dark Night of the Soul: St. John of the Cross, describes its meaning:

"For John, the dark night is an excruciating but necessary step of the spiritual journey wherein all familiar spiritual feelings and concepts of God dry up and fall into obscurity, leaving the seeker in a state of profound emptiness. This, says John, is the true beginning of the path to union in love with the Divine.

…The dark night is about being fully present in the tender wounded emptiness of our own souls. It's not about turning away from the pain but learning to rest in it. Rather than distracting ourselves from the simple darkness at our core, we sit with it, paying close attention. And opening our hearts to all that is left, which is love."

Album art

(13:24–14:23) Music Element

"Tension Block" from Music for Films, Vol. 3, performed by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois

(18:47) Agape Love in the New Testament

Krista mentions that Tolle's work is sometimes associated with the sphere of New Age spirituality, and that within that sphere there is a spiritual quest, but it is very individualistic and inward looking. This diverges from some of the impulses of the major religious traditions, including the impulse of active compassion, or agape love, of the New Testament. Agape is a Greek word that connotes a practical, self-sacrificing type of love. Often found in the New Testament of the Bible, early Christians refer to agapic love as a special love for God and God's love for man.

(21:18) Paraphrase of Gandhi's Quote

Krista paraphrases a popular quote by Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Album art

(22:30–23:08) Music Element

"The Last Balloon" from Apple Venus Volume 1, performed by XTC

(21:18) Paraphrase of Gandhi's Quote

Krista paraphrases a popular quote by Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Album art

(29:13–32:08) Music Element

"The Last Balloon" from Apple Venus Volume 1, performed by XTC

(31:10) Meister Eckhart

Eckhart Tolle was born Ullrich Tolle, but changed his name in deference to one of many teachers who influenced him. The German mystic Meister Eckhart (full name Johannes Eckhart von Hochheim, born c. 1260, died c. 1328) was a vicar and theology teacher who preached and wrote extensively about the relationship between people and God. He conceived of God as an infinite oneness, unity, and being, positing that all of God's individual creations are by nature "pure nothingness" in comparison to God.

While he believed that those creations, including human beings, are nothing in and of themselves, he also believed that they can still derive being from God, or that they can in some sense be filled with God:

"The spark in the soul is beyond time and space; the soul's light is uncreated and cannot be created, it takes possession of God with no mediation; the core of the soul and the core of God are one."

Meister Eckhart was widely read by scholars in his lifetime, but he was eventually charged with heresy for some of his more radical mystical writings. In his own defense, he wrote, "I may err but I am not a heretic, for the first has to do with the mind and the second with the will!" He apparently died before Pope John XXII rendered a verdict on his writings (scholars aren't sure whether he died in 1327 or 1328), but the record shows that he recanted for those aspects of his writings that had been criticized.

Of Meister Eckhart, Tolle has said he "…used Christian language, but didn't get stuck on narrow doctrinal 'religious' issues. He was very Buddhistic. He got to the essence of things. One of his noted teachings was, 'There's no greater obstacle to God than time,' whether that meant past or future."

Album art

(39:27–40:24) Music Element

"Electrocutango" from Putumayo Presents: Tango Around the World, performed by Los Felinos

Album art

(42:29–43:10) Music Element

"Tzima N'Arki" from After the Heat, performed by Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, Brian Eno

Album art

(42:29–43:10) Music Element

"Altair" from The Equatorial Stars, performed by Fripp & Eno

Share Episode

Shortened URL


is a spiritual teacher and the best-selling author of A New Earth and The Power of Now.