Eckhart Tolle is on the Rich Man’s List. Is this the price of enlightenment?

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:


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)

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 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.

381 thoughts on “Eckhart Tolle is on the Rich Man’s List. Is this the price of enlightenment?”

  1. Hopefully you’ve revisited this, because you’ve understated the appalling spectacle of Tolle and his effect on human consciousness. Because you knew Krishnamurti: everything he did reflected the ethics implicit in his understanding around authority, and the fundamental importance of becoming a light unto yourself. He constantly re-itterrated that he was not you’re guru, that the speaker is of no importance, that you must see for yourself for the insight to have any validity. Of course he also gave millions of dollars worth of international properties including a huge and beautiful castle, and didn’t ever accumulate or ever really handle money at all. If one was to ask if love has perfected his actions, it seems like a good and reasonable question to consider and go into.

    But having $80 million and counting in a country where people go bankrupt and have to sleep in their car because they got cancer, when his wealth could no doubt be enough to feed perhaps a million people who would otherwise die due to malnutrition or starvation, so his teaching would have to be really very fundamentally important to justify the hoarding of such wealth for a ministry. And he is dependent on sex and money, and presumably also, a huge audience and huge sense of social security, esteem and even reverence. So what is his effect on ‘seekers’ (hate that term)?

    He basically lectures: he doesn’t really ask questions or discuss like Krishnamurti did, who he often quotes. He makes no effort to ensure that the listener is actually seeing it for themselves, and his emphasis is on explaining the unimportance of day to day thinking and to consciously redirect your attention to the present moment: this obviously creates the problem of who is doing the meditation: obviously it is me trying to meditate – Krishnamurti would be turning in his grave and it is an obvious recipe to be trapped by the illusion of an ego that is practicing meditation and getting somewhere. Everyone who describes themselves as ‘spritual’ (another thing I can’t stand) seems to end up in this trap, and their whole effort is in their own personal spiritual development, often getting enormously bogged down with ‘why aren’t I getting anywhere even though I practice meditation every day’ trap that has been known for probably 3,000 years.

    So what is Tolle offering in his teaching that is distinct? Simplicity and assertive assurances that humanity is naturally waking up, that if you are reading this book or attending my lecture you must be one of the lucky ones, that really you don’t have to do anything except enjoy the present moment, absolutely no emphasis on understanding the phenomena of your own consciousness at all, so you have gullible people putting his suggestions into practice, getting frustrated and disillusioned, and blaming themselves. He has a clever answer to dismiss almost every kind of problem that is raised along these lines.

    So has love perfected his actions, or was he rash, hasty, gullible in thinking a quiet mind automatically meant one was enlightened? For me what is important is whether or not love has perfected the persons teaching and action. That’s why it seems extremely important that anyone who would purport to be a teacher (which K didn’t) should have impeachable moral impeccability. The very fact that we could so easily imagine much higher standards of ethics makes clear that he has a long way to go indeed. Someone like me should not be able to easily imagine so much better, for he is the enlightened and perfect one, and I am the pleb.

    Do you know what he said once in one of his lectures? “If someone told me I was going to be a great teacher, I’d have developed a massive ego”. But to say you are a great teacher already implies you have a massive ego, especially considering that he is really offering only the illusion of spiritual progress and growth – because spiritual growth is not what we want. We want to clear out, not grow. What is to grow? Our bank balance? Our ego? Anyway, I could go on and on and on…

    Ultimately, we don’t need teachers – we just have to want to understand what is, as it is, and that means not wanting anything else, like a career or to be useful to others. You have to be a free human being, and if you are helping it has to be out of that freedom. Certainly Tolle has no freedom within the strictures of his enterprise, and I fear he has failed to understand what has taken place within himself and rashly concluded that he was enlightened. K said anyone who tells you they are enlightened is a fool. Don’t listen. If Tolle really was enlightened then it would be incomprehensible to me how love didn’t then go on to perfect his actions, his life, and his service to humanity which by appearance and in truth is an acquisitive enterprise extracting enormous revenues from people much less fortunate then himself, and with uncertain benefits to anyone. I would go further and express my serious concern that it has damaged the spiritual fate of humanity rather then helped it, lulling people into a false sense of security and ultimately they’ll be left high and dry if it all falls flat on their faces, which alas, I feel it might.

  2. Those who WISH to see him live can pay this. He has low cost books and lots of free videos online – you can learn and practiyhis whole approach for almost nothing. Today, also Buddha would be wealthy or fully and lavishly supported by his followers.

  3. I have found very interesting your post. I was wandering for a long time over these themes, of what Eckhart does to his money. Nobody knows, And that is an alert to me. Krishnamurti was his teacher, and K. was so different in this aspect…

  4. The irony is that this whole piece is a judgemental, finger pointing commentary so the writer thereby admits that they are indeed no more conscious than Eckhart Tolle. The writer foes on to recommend Tolle live in a Buddhist monastery, however the writer’s own Buddhist monastery experience didn’t shed his own ego enough to write opinion pieces that frankly read as a bit of jealousy. I have no doubt that most all Buddhist monks in monasteries who are on the path to enlightenment don’t even know who Eckhart Tolle is, nor care.

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