In March, 2014, I posted a blog expressing concern about the very high fees that Eckhart Tolle charges to attend one of his public talks, workshops or retreats.
This blog brought from readers some supportive responses, some questions and some reactions. I continue to receive emails.
I made it clear in the blog my concerns about any subjugation of spirituality to personal wealth creation and the building of a corporate empire. To get a high approval rating from TV entertainer, Oprah Winfrey matters little.
It may be that Eckhart Tolle is attached to the accumulation of personal wealth or powerless to make radical changes to his business empire which excludes those who cannot afford to rent a television to watch an Oprah show, let alone attend one of his workshops.
High charges for enlightenment teachings, especially in North America, have become more and more widespread. I heard last week of one US teacher who charged $11,000 for a week retreat and subsequently increased his charge to $19,000 in Europe.
Expensive public talks, workshops, courses and retreats make spiritual teachings only accessible to the privileged with disposable income.
One person told me that she went to listen to a spiritual teacher from North America give a public talk. She said he spent far too much time promoting his non-residential weekend workshop for $500 for person. The teacher said that some 20 people had already registered. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out his earnings for a weekend.
I heard of one yoga teacher who charges $50 for an hour class before his yoga students go to the office in the morning. Around 50 office staff attends the same class. No wonder some people talk about becoming spiritual teachers, meditation teachers or mindfulness leaders as career options.
It does not help when a certain renowned spiritual teacher claims that mindfulness may be the only promise for the species for the next 200 years. These well-meaning beliefs sound like spiritual hyperbole.
Where is the humility with what people offer? I would say that nearly all of the current mindfulness workshops in the corporate world fail to show any promise for the next 20 minutes, let alone 200 years.
Mindfulness programmes do not offer any revolutionary agenda, any critical inquiry, not any determination to get corporations to cut back on their desire, their addiction to power, to control, to exploitation of the Earth and avoidance of taxes that causes so much stress upon welfare, hospitals, schools, public transport, overseas aid and the environment. I am writing as a mindfulness teacher for 40 years with an online mindfulness training course in the past three years.
Over the top claims about spiritual teachings, mindfulness and yoga show disrespect to the wide variety of scientists, religious people, organisations and activists working hard daily for the welfare of people, animals and the environment and for a sustainable world.
There is a worrying drift in this direction of charging large sums of money and simultaneously making grandiose personal and public claims.
Certain spiritual teachers need to show an enlightened and compassionate attitude to everybody, regardless of their financial status. These same teachers often tirelessly claim their personal enlightenment and credentials but show little trust in their spiritual followers to support them.
These questionable teachers contribute to public cynicism. There are wonderful networks of spiritual/meditation/mindfulness/yoga teachers totally dedicated to public service, who make great personal sacrifices to share their teachings and approach with others. They keep to modest charges, work through donations, offer personal availability and engage in endless acts of personal kindness.
One person emailed me this week: “I have been delving into my spiritual journey with some passion. I worry that there are spiritual teachers trying to take advantage of people since I notice everything comes at a price. That price is never low.”
My response was: “The seeker must employ wise discernment. Dig out any wisdom found in a spiritual book. Watch any public talks on YouTube. Find out if there are free audio downloads of the teacher. The teachings may provide some inspiration and insight.
“Do not be fearful of expressing criticism of those who make substantial sums from their public talks or refuse to meet with people one to one or have made themselves inaccessible, except to an elite circle.
Another person emailed me last week “I have 2 DVDs, 1 book, and a couple of hours of lectures, all which cost me $22, If his (Eckhart Tolle) teachings are of value, then I for one am grateful that he continues to ‘rip off ‘ the rich. They deserve it (to be ripped off) anyway?”
My response was: “Teachers of Oneness, cannot have it both ways. They can’t say in real terms “ We are all One’ except those who struggle to make ends meet. It is a rather narrow Oneness when there are outcasts.
A stranger in Totnes stopped me to ask me about my Tolle blog. She said she had attended a Tolle workshop and felt it did not matter if he became very wealthy through his charges and marketing of his products.
My response was spiritual teachings become meaningless, when they exclude letting go of personal desire, ignore the plight of low income families and show a lack of committment and empathy to such people in need of wisdom and compassion
Please remember that contemporary Western spiritual enlightenment mostly focusses on being in the now, a non-judging mindfulness, an end to the seeker, and a sense of onenes . You might think such teachings were deep and profound. Far, far from it. This is beginner’s stuff.
Shortly before his death, the Buddha expressed concern about the ‘closed fist’ of the teacher such as a teacher who holds to and promotes a single insight or two at the exclusion of a rich and diverse exploration.
In an enlightened way of life, no stone is left unturned. There is a bringing to light to bear equally on the inner and outer life, as mentioned in the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness. It is the enquiry into ethics, desires, depths of meditation, money, action, livelihood, love, compassion, empathy, identity, conflict, emptiness, self and non-self, truth, reality and awakening.
What is an enlightened application to the personal and public life, for the individual and the institution, the worldly and the spiritual?
What is an enlightened application to the political, corporate, religious, cultural formations and information technology? The Now? Being? A Oneness Experience?
We only get silence from much of the current wave of spiritual, mindfulness, non-dual and yoga teachers.
What much of the West offers in the way of enlightenment belongs to the kindergarten of spirituality.