In August 2000, a meditator at the Spirit Rock Meditation Centre, Marin, California, kindly gave me a copy of The Power of Now (price $21.95) by Eckhart Tolle that had been published the year before. She told me she had bought a dozen copies to give to her friends. She wrote on the inside cover:
“Thank you, Christopher. I am grateful for your guidance and your support in my awakening. May this book be a blessing to you. It is changing my life.”
Many people worldwide express immense appreciation for the spiritual teachings of Eckhart Tolle. His teachings have made a difference to people’s lives. He has the capacity to communicate his spiritual/psychological insights in ways that make much sense to those who follow his approach.
Within a few years of writing his first book, Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher brought up in Germany, formerly worked in Britain and currently living in Canada, has become one of the best known spiritual teachers in the Western world offering retreats, public talks as well as appearing on various television programmes. Millions have read one or more of his four books:
- THE POWER OF NOW. A GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT.
- THE PRACTISE OF THE POWER OF NOW
- A NEW EARTH. CREATE A BETTER LIFE
- STILLNESS SPEAKS
Published in 35 languages, these four books have gone onto sell some 12 million copies or more between them. The cover of my 2009 copy of A NEW EARTH states “The 6 million-copy worldwide best seller.”
Mind the Gap
Is there a growing gap between the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and his immense wealth? Is this the price of enlightenment? Eckhart speaks regularly of the illusions people live in. But is he aware of the disillusionment that people feel when spiritual teachers become incredibly wealthy?
In October 2013, Eckhart and Kim Eng gave a five day retreat in Italy. His website said the retreat cost $995.00. I took a second breath when I saw the price for the retreat. And that was before I noticed the dreaded asterisk. On the asterisk below, it read:
*Tuition price only. Accommodations and meals package is additional.
Eckhart and Kim Eng charged $995.00 (£600, €725) for their tuition of participants for their five day retreat, plus sales of books, DVDs, calendars and so on. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out how much money they receive when a reported 500 attended. They could have made for themselves about half a million dollars in five days.
Participants booked through Eckhart Teachings to pay to stay in nearby hotels, ranging from $500 to $1000 for the five nights – a walking distance to the huge conference hall to listen to Eckhart. If participants make their own housing arrangements, then they pay Eckhart Teachings, a “commuter fee of $295 including meals and yoga mat.”
Eckhart gave a two day retreat in Australia in 2011 to hundreds of people. Eckhart charged $695.00 for two days of intuition. It’s seems to be a money spinning guide to enlightenment.
Eckhart charges individuals between the cheapest seats at £50 to £75 for the “platinum seats” to listen to him give a two talk with questions and answers. In an evening programme in a theatre in the East End of London in October 2013, more than 2500 people attended. It meant that the commercial arm of Eckhart Teachings probably received around £150,000 gross from tickets sales, plus sales of his books, his DVDs, his calendars, cards etc. Costs include rent of the theatre for the evening etc.
Eckhart gives talks addressing the suffering of clinging to ownership. Yet, it is stated on his website: “Absolutely no recording devices of any kind are allowed at the retreat.” Eckhart Teachings keep a tight control over recorded access to his words.
The cover of The Power of Now tells readers that the book is a guide to spiritual enlightenment. For whom is this spiritual enlightenment? It would seem this enlightenment is for those with disposable income, mostly middle class people in their 50’s and older.
Exclusion of those with a low income
The door charges and retreat charges effectively exclude many teenagers, single mothers, the poor, the unemployed, the low income, backpackers, people in debt, people struggling to pay bills for sickness and the elderly living on a state pension. The cover of A New Earth tells us his book is to “create a better life.” For whom?
Around 13 million people or 20% of the population in Britain live below the poverty line. Far too many families have to choose between food and heat. Figures are probably similar in other Western countries. The poor can’t afford to buy a CD or go to an Eckhart Tolle talk, let alone a retreat
Yes, his teachings are freely available on YouTube, as his followers regularly point out. This is welcome. Many benefit from watching his teachings on Youtube. There is a real difference between Youtube teachings and sitting in the same hall with a much-loved teacher. A wealthy man can offer the teachings from time to time for those in the low-income category. There is no substitute for being in the presence of a teacher. Direct oral teachings resonate deeply.
Why can’t wealthy spiritual teachers enable the poor to attend their live programmes? Are they obedient to the will of those who run their foundations and business enterprises?
The Business Company
Eckhart Tolle has established a huge worldwide commercial enterprise through his business company, Eckhart Teachings. Last month, Watkins Bookshop in London named Eckhart as the world’s second most influential spiritual teacher after the Dalai Lame and immediately ahead of Pope Francis.
Tolle’s highly successful commercial activities have put him firmly on the world’s RICH MAN’S LIST in the space of 15 years.
It is surely appropriate to question whether his growing personal wealth, and his desire for more, is compatible with his spiritual teachings.
If one of his books sells for roughly around $10.00, then then total income from his books alone amounts to $120,000,000. Eckhart would receive a percentage (probably around 7.5% – 10%) of this from royalties.
His commercial activities in the UK alone include Eckhart Tolle TV Live Stream for six months. $99.65, New Earth Card Deck for £19.00, New Earth Calendar for £11.00, Inspirational Selections from A New Earth £18.00, Eckhart Tolle’s Findhorn Retreat (2 DVDs and a book). £27.00, Eckhart Tolle’s Music to Quiet the Mind £13.00, In the Presence of Mystery (Audio) £22.50 and much, much more. Bulk production of a DVD with box, label and inserted jacket costs less than a $ per item.
Some Eckhart Tolle fans will defend these substantial charges. Concerts and sports events cost much the same amount of money for the same amount of time so why should not a spiritual superstar charge top prices for admission? There is a difference. And it is a big difference. Entertainers and sports stars do not offer spiritual teachings on letting go, dropping desire, living without attachment, trusting in the now and enlightenment.
Data on Eckhart Tolle Foundation, classified as a religious organisations, provided by the IRS (Inland Revenue Service – US tax department) https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.profile&ein=475641645
Wealth and Spirituality
When asked about wealth and spirituality, Eckhart replied on YouTube:
“Many in traditional religions have renounced material things did not realise that they have not renounced desire in their mind. So they tried to suppress desire by having no possessions. The true renunciation is about attachment to which operates on an inner level. It is the inner that matters.”
Mr Tolle lacks the experience and understanding of men and women living a life of intentional renunciation or a complete lack of interest in materialism. Monks, nuns, sadhus, swamis, spiritual communities, spiritual seekers, meditators and more explore a different way of life. His claim that those who live such a way of life are ‘trying to suppress their desire by having no possessions” tells us about a judgemental mind.
As a former Buddhist monk in the East, I would suggest Mr. Tolle spends some time in a monastery to experience such a way of life. In my experience as a monk, there are very few ordained who suppress desires. The vast majority can’t see the point in a materialistic way of life and accumulation of wealth with death never far away.
Is Eckhart Tolle honestly trying to claim that he has renounced desire while desiring to charge exorbitant tuition fees to listen to him? Some of those renunciates in religious traditions, who have little or no possessions, include such Buddhist monks as the Dalai Lama and Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn, the fourth most popular spiritual teacher in the Watkins Bookshop list. Another renunciate from the Christian tradition, Pope Francis chooses to live in simple rooms in the Vatican.
In A New Earth (page 46), Eckhart writes about the problem of the ego. “I don’t have enough yet” by which the ego really means “I am not enough yet.”
“Having – the concept of ownership – is a fiction created by the ego… Wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. It is an addictive need….
“The thought forms of me and mine…I want, I need ….pertain not to content but to the structure of the ego.”
Fine words, Mr. Tolle. You have made $millions in the last 15 years. Do you really need to own so much money? Why do you still want to make even more money?
May I humbly suggest that you reflect on your insightful words for your readers on page 99: “My God. Is this what I have been doing? Once you see what you have been doing or are doing, you also see its futility and the unconscious pattern, then comes to an end by itself. Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
- Please explain to your many followers how your desires and needs to make so much money from your talks, retreats and commercial sales contribute to a new Earth.
- Please let your followers know what you do with your immense wealth?
- Do you use your money to create a better life for people?
- If so, what organisations, trusts, charities do you give to?
- Do you invest you invest your money in the financial markets? If so, which?
- Do you leave your money in your bank? If so, why?
If the thought of such transparency is too difficult for you to handle, then I have a small suggestion.
The Power of Donation
Mr. Tolle, You are on the world’s Rich Man List. You are very wealthy. From now on, please offer all or many of your public talks and retreats on the basis of dana (a Pali word meaning the act of giving, the offering of a donation) and minimise the price of your books, cards, calendars etc. Your wealthy devotees will still give you a generous reward for your fine teachings.
The Buddha spoke frequently of the power of dana. Dana covers many aspects of the inner life:
- An important aspect of spiritual enlightenment
- The power to let go
- The practise of generosity
- To abide in trust
- To be free from greed
- To end measuring of one’s worth through fixing a charge
- To live without desire for financial security in the future
- To see through egoic needs and identification with wealth
- To show compassion to many people with financial hardship
- To treat teachings as truly priceless
- To support creating a better life for everybody.
Your teachings have given much support to the spiritual journey of your followers. You deservedly receive a lot of goodwill from people. You can make a contribution towards developing trust in spiritual teachers and their teachings. Your practise of dana would dispel the growing widespread disillusionment with spiritual teachers who accumulate vast sums of money. This is not a hair-shirt philosophy but an act of kindness and support for all regardless of their financial status.
If you developed trust in dana, you would show to yourself and your followers the power of now to let go of old desires. I am sure you would agree.
Note to Readers. This is a critique of the fusion of spirituality with accumulation of immense wealth. There is no intention to deter readers from listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube or reading his books.
May all beings understand the Timeless –
unbound to the past,
unbound to the now
and unbound to the future.
PS. I wrote the blog in 2014. At that time, his wealth was estimated at $15,000,000. In 2021, the net worth of Eckhart Tolle is currently $80,000,000 according to the WealthyPersons.com website.
The global pandemic has currently blocked the opportunity for all, regardless of income, to attend public events of spiritual teachers, and others. The wealthy and the poor unite on YouTube.