Friday, June 26, 2009
I got this video from over at the Zen Mirror blog (see my blog list for the link). Now, I like Eckhart Tolle's work. He's aware, insightful, and clear enough to get into the minds and hearts of many who will probably never step the door of a zendo or other spiritual community. Although he often gets lumped in with other New Age types, like Deepak Chopra, I don't think it's a fair assessment.The one criticism I have had of Tolle's work is that the sangha seems to be missing, as is a deeper reflection on social issues and how our spiritual lives might help address the societal ills of the day. However, unlike many of the New Age superstars, who sell sugar coated positive thinking, Tolle does his best to get us to break down our ego attachments, and to see what is actually present right now in our lives. He's not always soft, and easy to digest, and I appreciate that.
But I have to say I find this new alliance with the Queen of Pop television - Oprah - troubling. Sure, some may say that this is a good way to get his teachings out to an even wider audience, and I suppose that's true. And yet, as you'll see in the video, there's a hell of a lot of consumerism behind this project, which is always the case when Oprah is involved. Oprah's rise from poverty may be inspiring, but her promotion and excessive indulgence in material goods, materialistic viewpoints, and western capitalist solutions to national and world problems has always left a bad taste in my mouth. A great example of this is the elitist girls school she founded in South Africa in 2007. Not only has the school had a pair of sex scandals, but it also is an example of the soft colonialism that continues to occur in Africa. In other words, the school is well meaning, but it really doesn't take into account the cultural and community dynamics at play, nor the impact of taking a small group of girls from their homes and placing them in a very materially rich, closed environment for months or even years at a time.
As for Tolle and Oprah working together, it's difficult for me to believe that the bit of "edge" Tolle has will continue to be present. And will this become just another money making, ego inflating enterprise for both of them, despite their best intentions? Already, Tolle's workshops are out of reach financially for a lot of people. But add to that the selling drive of Team Oprah (i.e. her corporate backers), and you have a recipe for the feel good spiritual product of the century.
I can imagine a fair amount of readers on here already view Tolle as watered down and lacking depth. But regardless of how you view his work, I do think that what he has done up until now, and what he does in the future has some impact on how the dharma sets itself in the West. Why? Partly because I've personally met a fair number of people who have become zen practitioners at some point after reading Tolle's books, and can imagine this is true in other places as well. In addition, although Tolle doesn't claim a spiritual tradition, his emphasis on the present moment, deconstructing our personal stories, and letting go of attachments are easily linked to Buddhism and Buddhist teachings.
Is all this something to loose sleep over? No. But at the same time, I do think it's worth reflecting on, not only in terms of how money and materialism effect spiritual teachings, but also in terms of how celebrity can influence what is being taught and how.
Posted by Nathan at 10:21 PM