The Limits of Mysticism - Eckhart Tolle Meets Anthroposophy
In my experience questing for understanding of spiritual aspects of the human community, I have had occasion to encounter some unusual synchronicities. One such event emerged while perusing a lecture by noted Initiate and spiritual scientist, Rudolf Steiner. Steiner’s statement, pertaining to 13th Century mystic, Meister Eckhart, ran as follows: (to paraphrase) “Eckhart mistook the seed of his next life (accrued from wisdom of his then current life) for the “God within,” as he was not familiar with the dynamics of reincarnation.”
Steiner was referring to both Meister Eckhart, and his principle disciple, John Tauler. Cut, now, to a popular spiritual teacher of our present time, Eckhart Tolle. Eight centuries ago, we had Eckhart/Tauler. Now we have Eckhart Tolle. . . hmmm. . .so I did a metaphysical double take on this resonation, and decided to look deeper.
One of the first things I discovered was that Eckhart Tolle’s keystone awakening, a life-altering experience at age 29, typified the kind of event found on the path of a mystic. As opposed to a rigorous, day by day, every-step-earned process, Tolle’s entry was an overnight leap into the Threshold.
Subsequent to his epiphany experience, the Tolle of today, nee Ulrich Leonard Tolle, changed his name to resonate with one of his key influences, the original Meister Eckhart of the 13th Century.
This led me to undertake a comparative analysis of what Eckhart Tolle is presenting, alongside anthroposophy. In this article, I refer principally to modern anthroposophy, as exemplified by Georg Kuhlewind (who passed on in 2006), a dependable resource on Western meditation and consciousness exploration.
Compared with the wildly popular Eckhart Tolle, the lesser known offerings of Kuhlewind, are (I maintain) more grounded, and deeper-running. Resources for both follow at the end of this article.
However, from the outset, I want to say that this is not meant to be a put-down of the worldview presented by Eckhart Tolle. In fact, my own feeling is that many of his practices have a lot of merit. Only, in the end, upon in-depth review, a seeker may want to temper these practices with some complementary perspectives. If I had to choose between Tolle and Kuhlewind, I would choose the latter. However, even better, I believe a productive synthesis of the two can be pursued - provided the seeker proceeds mindfully, and engages in a way that honors individual circumstances.
As in all things, caveat emptor - “buyer beware” - especially when the “purchase” is a metaphysical one.
Some of the differences between the two pathways that I have chosen to scrutinize appear to consist largely of a definitional nature. For example, in Tolle’s estimation, “thinking” is the key problem, “the mind” is the enemy - unless used with Presence. An Anthroposophical approach agrees with this, as far as everyday conceptual life goes, but contends that Thinking, per se, is a powerfully productive avenue. To clarify, the anthroposophical perspective of “Thinking” refers to thinking imbued with feeling and willing, a Steinerian form of cognition, as opposed to what Eckhart Tolle is getting at, which is the basic conceptual activity of the lower ego.
Georg Kuhlewind asserts that, “Thinking must become so strong and independent that it appears to the subject with the same character of reality as does any outward perception. This is achieved through exercises in concentration, as far as is necessary (and for the majority of people today it is necessary). . .”
The key to grappling with the thinking issue is to understand the difference between thought (already performed, now existing in the past) and the process of thinking (alive in the moment). “I think, therefore I am” is the lesser ego’s line. However, “I am” is the voice of the source of thinking.
Prior to meditation, the gaps between thoughts are experienced as nothing. Through process of meditation, those gaps become the birth arena, the birth-force, of thought.
New Age demonization of the ego can be problematic. For one thing, the development of ego-consciousness was a necessary phase toward a greater destiny. And beyond the domain of the “lower ego” presides another aspect of self, which can be termed “Ego,” an individualized aspect of Spirit - in fact, the modern “jewel in the lotus,” or leading edge of evolution for humanity. In Steiner’s view, humanity is destined, eventually, to return to the spiritual pool from which it emerged, only we will do so with fully developed consciousness.
While the ancient practice of dissolution of the ego was an effective process for its time, discernment of the new conditions of our current age needs to come about.
Related to this consideration, is the concept of “separation” (as an aspect of the “ego’s sense of identity”). While separation is largely illusion-based, the new edge of evolution suggests that because individuation is valid, the spiritual evolution of human nature entails a dynamic poise that strives to embrace both Unity and Separation - that we are, or are growing to be, both fully one with All, yet simultaneously individuated. This level of truth can only be comprehended on a clairsentient level, as the mind itself cannot grasp this seeming impossibility - impossible on the mental plain, but feasible on the spiritual plain.
The real issue, then, is not that the ego needs to be dissipated (although on one level, mindful processing of the ego is certainly called for), but that humanity, like a fourteen-year-old teen, is not yet mature enough to engage its Ego-hood. This is why we fall, so often, into such trouble with this facet of our being - into egotism, and related failings. And it explains, also, our association with out-dated social identity forums that lead to strife, division, and violence, such as, nationalism, inside-outside group membership, religions, blood-family ties - all manner of social groupings we need to move on from. We have not yet matured into this newest aspect of our being, an Ego-hood that, paradoxically, transcends division.
A key part of the agenda of an active processing relates to transforming the ego into a higher state. The goal of modern meditation might be summed up as a practice that leads beyond normal thinking, into the process of Thinking.
It is likely that, of the millions who are engaging in the exercises that teachers such as Eckhart Tolle present, most will attain meaningful progress in terms of soul-processing. They will free themselves of some of their incarnation-bound suffering, but will fall short on initiating the other half of the agenda - that of spirit-processing.
Spirit-processing entails activity like consciously evolving one’s astral nature, a long-term project. The real deal is about rigorous striving to convert the lower astral nature to a higher form. Clearly an Egoic function. “Presence,” in this assessment, is a process that entails the power and engagement of the “I.”
Go to Insight21 for more on this issue.
J Graf is the coordinator of Insight21
and Earth Vision
- doorways for the 21st Century.
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