Book Review – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Written in 1999, Eckhart Tolle’s book Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment was one of the best sellers in Amazon and it was also featured on the New York Times bestseller list. It is a self help book intended as a shortcut for spiritual enlightenment. The central theme of the book is the importance of living in the present and enjoying the current moment of life. He correctly points out that for all practical purposes, past and future is nowhere important as the current moment.

Eckhart says that before he attained spiritual enlightenment, he was depressed and was almost suicidal. But one day he suddenly became conscious and he fully became aware of the present moment. There we no negative thoughts and the mind switched off giving him intense positive energy. From the book,

The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a  pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all.

That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth,as if I had just been born into this world.

For the next five months, I lived in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss. After that, it diminished somewhat in intensity, or perhaps it just seemed to because it became my natural state. I could still function in the world, although I realized that nothing I ever did could possibly add anything to what I already had.

That is a pretty good persuasive start for this kind of book.  I was initially very much impressed with the book’s central theme. Obviously many of us forget to live in the present and always tend to repent about past and strive for success and fortune in the future. Somehow we feel that tomorrow will be a better day.  As Eckhart points out many times in the book, living in the present is all that matters. If we cannot enjoy our present moment, we cannot enjoy life at all. Eckhart uses a lot of sayings and passages from Bible, Buddha philosophy and he even points out the "leela" (games) mentioned in Indian philosophy. Obviously he has read a lot and knows how to weave them together to make a strong argument.

The book is organized in the form of question and answer sessions and the intention seems to convince the reader about the Power of Now. But the problem with me was that I didn’t needed any proof of benefit of living in the present. I agreed with him in the first paragraph and hence everything after it seemed redundant!

In the book Eckhart mentions a lot of passages from Bible and explains that over time many of the new testament passages are misinterpreted. I agree with him, at the same time I also think that Eckhart has added his own misinterpretation to the list! It also tells me that some of Jesus’ teachings can be twisted whatever way you want it to be. Eckhart also adapts Zen quotes and Buddha quotes for his philosophy and boy! he does a good job in that.

According to Eckhart, our mind is our biggest enemy and he makes a distinction between the mind and the soul. I personally have felt the problem with "excessive thinking" as Eckhart calls it. He goes on to say,

The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth when he made his famous statement: "I think, therefore I am." He had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity with thinking. The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind.

Eckhart calls the inherent negative energy as the "pain body" which according to him is the reason behind all bad things that are happening including wars and environmental disaster. Sounds a bit far fetched to me as in my opinion, it is just our inherent animalistic instinct which is causing all this. Eckhart says,

This accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. If you look on it as an invisible entity in its own right, you are getting quite close to the truth. Its the emotional pain-body. It has two modes of being: dormant and active. A pain-body may be dormant 90 percent of the time; in a deeply unhappy person, though, it may be active up to 100 percent of the time. Some people live almost entirely through their pain-body, while others may experience it only in certain situations, such as intimate relationships, or situations linked with past loss or abandonment, physical or emotional hurt, and so on. Anything can trigger it, particularly if it resonates with a pain pattern from your past. When it is ready to awaken from its dormant stage, even a thought or an innocent remark made by someone close to you can activate it.

Eckhart applies the "Power of Now" to human relationships and goes on to explain "true love" which is devoid of any pain. According to him such love changes addictive relationships to enlightened relationships. He offers a definition of God in the same chapter,

What is God? The eternal One Life underneath all the forms of life. What is love? To feel the presence of that One Life deep within yourself and within all creatures. To be it. Therefore, all love is the love of God.

Then later in the same chapter he takes an absurd turn,

Generally speaking, it is easier for a woman to feel and be in her body, so she is naturally closer to Being and potentially closer to enlightenment than a man. This is why many ancient cultures instinctively chose female figures or analogies to represent or describe the formless and transcendental reality.

This is typical new age nonsense and trust me there is a lot of it in the book.  But I have to admit that Eckhart can present such stuff convincingly and elegantly. That probably is what made this book so popular. As they say a good salesman can sell a dog as a sheep without even disguising it.

But what surprised me most was that Eckhart managed to expand this "one page philosophy" (the power of now) into a book with over 250 pages (the audio book runs for 7+ hours)! He goes over the same concept again and again in different contexts almost killing the entire idea. Unfortunately he doesn’t tell us how we can achieve that inner peace and start living in the present. There are some suggestions such as getting rid of the evil mind and focusing on your next thought etc. Personally I found them useless.

Summary

In the current busy world, we are all in the rat race for success and fortune. The Power of Now has a good message that all the stress and hurry may be stupid after all. What is more important is to live the current moment. And I think that message alone makes it worthwhile to read the book. But there is also a of lot redundant stuff in the book almost to the point that you may feel you wasted your time.

This book actually belongs to the philosophy category, not self help. But then how will you make money out of philosophy?

My rating : 6 out of 10. Read it if you have lot of free time.

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September 6, 2008 | Posted in Opinion No Comments » | By Jayson Joseph

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