The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

by Eckhart Tolle
published by New World Library (USA) and Hodder Mobius (Great Britain), 1999. $22.95 

reviewed by Pathik Strand

One of the more notable spiritual teachers to emerge over the last few years is German-born Eckhart Tolle, whose book The Power of Now has become an international best-seller, already being translated into 17 languages.

Tolle’s path to his present role as a major spiritual teacher in the West is unique in that prior to his spiritual awakening he didn’t study with any teacher nor observe any particular spiritual practice. He reports in his book to have lived in an almost constant state of anxiety, despair and depression until shortly after his 29th birthday. Then one night his inner pain became so unbearable that consciousness withdrew from its identification with the mind, which led to a spontaneous and complete spiritual awakening. He spent the following years integrating and understanding this new dimension of consciousness, and it took some 20 years from his initial awakening until he wrote The Power of Now, during which time he also studied the work of other spiritual teachers.

The teaching he outlines is firmly based in a non-dual tradition with clear parallels to Buddhist philosophy, and yet it expresses a unique and radical approach to spirituality. It is a profound and far-reaching work, but at the same time it is so easy to understand that anyone can read it and relate to its contents. It is this rare quality of expressing deep, timeless truth in a straightforward and simple manner that is one of this book’s greatest strengths. The format that he has chosen is one of questions and answers, which contributes greatly to making this book so accessible. He says in the introduction that the book is based on answers to questions from people at retreats and in private sessions, which goes some way to explain the freshness and immediacy of the text.

Central to his message is the realisation that spiritual enlightenment is possible and achievable for everybody, right now, regardless of life situation and spiritual practice. Enlightenment, according to Eckhart Tolle, is quite simply the natural state of consciousness, free from the constantly chattering mind that is either preoccupied with the past or inventing the future for its salvation. Being attached to past hurts and pleasures and looking to the future for fulfilment and happiness, is how most of us live our lives. Tolle suggests that a more natural, fulfilling way of life is to live fully in this moment, in a state of inner silence, leaving the rational mind behind, to be used only when needed.

Eckhart Tolle’s teaching bears some resemblance to that of the late J. Krishnamurti, but unlike Krishnamurti, he does prescribe certain practices for living what he calls the liberated life. One example is his teaching about body awareness. He claims that by being attentive to the energy field of the physical body, it is much easier to go beyond thought and live effortlessly in the present moment. However, he stresses that suggestions like this aren’t something to be practised with an eye to future results. On the contrary, the experience of consciously inhabiting the body is part of enlightenment, and anyone can do it, without any special training or background in spiritual matters.

This is one of the many ways in which Eckhart Tolle’s teaching is so radically different from other spiritual traditions. He seems to imply that enlightenment is already the case, and that we only need to stop and be silent for this dimension to be revealed to us. Furthermore, Eckhart Tolle maintains that enlightenment is the only truly natural way to live one’s life; it is only through a radical transformation of human consciousness that humanity can hope to live in peace and harmony.

The Power of Now is a book of clarity, understanding and beauty. It deserves a place among the classic expressions of human spirituality, and is likely to inspire and challenge spiritual seekers for many years to come.
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This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 4, issue 39, Spring, 2003