He has sold millions of books in many countries throughout the world, and is launching an online channel this spring. Celebrities like Cher and Meg Ryan swear by him, and Paris Hilton even brought his book with her to jail. Oprah Winfrey not only put his book in her book club, but she also hosted an unprecedented 10-part online series with him.
Tolle, who was born in Germany is a rather unassuming "spiritual teacher" and doesn't like the term "guru." Tolle doesn't do "self-help" in the traditional sense. He isn't teaching people how to lose weight, get a job or have a better sex life.
Instead, he's teaching people how to shut off the noise in their heads and be happy. His message is that our egos are destroying our lives, and by ego he doesn't just mean thinking we are special, he means our thinking, period. That voice in our heads, our ego, Tolle believes, has a relentless need to be right, which leads us to make enemies. Tolle granted ABC's Dan Harris a rare interview.
Eckhart Tolle: To me the ego is the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody's mind continuously. External things like possessions or memories or failures or successes or achievements. Your personal history. All these things, a bundle of thoughts, of repetitive thoughts that give you a sense of who you are.
Dan Harris: So our ego, this constant stream of thinking, the voice in our head is making us miserable?
Eckhart Tolle: Yes, that's right. And it prevents you from being truly alive. So I'm not saying we musn't think anymore. That would not be possible and it would not be desirable. Thinking is a wonderful tool if it's applied. Thinking however can not become the master. Thinking is a very bad master. If you're dominated by thinking then your life becomes very restricted. If you're able to use your mind instead of being used by your mind, that's a beautiful thing. To use your mind constructively.
Psychologists found that 98 or 99 percent of our thinking is repetitive. And also a lot of our thinking is very negative. People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgements, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on. Many people live habitually as if the present moment were either an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment, and imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one, that is continuous stress.
Tolle blames most of the ills of the world on our egos: broken homes, wars and our destruction of the planet. But according to Tolle, our ego isn't the only thing making us unhappy. He says we're wasting our lives by refusing to live in the present moment. He says he can teach people how to become aware of the voice in their head, and thereby tame it. He calls it "awakening," a fancy-sounding name for what he says is a very attainable state. Tolle's personal spiritual awakening came out of his own mental anguish.
Eckhart Tolle: It's a state of conciousness. The possibility of living in a more peaceful, more vibrantly alive state of conciousness. That's all. Not some weird belief system that we need to adopt. It's much more fundamental and much more simple.
Dan Harris: How did you get this way, how did you awaken?