On the first concern: Maybe it's because I'm a teacher, but I'm all about primary sources. Yet don't we all steal from one another, re-work it a bit, then call it our own? I'm not sure it's really that big a deal that the ideas he espouses aren't at all new. Maybe it bothers me just because I've done the work of reading the original sources, and I feel like people are cheating by relying on Tolle. But maybe that's a bad argument.
On the second concern: This one has more merit. Years ago I found a site comparing Tolle quotations to a philosophers - but I can't remember the philosopher (Aristotle? Plato? Lao Tzu?), and I can't find that site. But suffice it to say that in a quote-to-quote comparison, Tolle falls short by a mile. His axioms are pithy and often of little substantial meaning. And he falls into a few serious fallacy traps. Essentially, he presents information not in a way that we can contemplate and deliberate, but in a way that makes it impossible to disagree. One blogger called this the "three cards 'mindfuck' trick." I can't find the originally author (anon), but I found the following here:
"(1) The Higher Level Card (i.e. Sorry, it's just over your head). Sorry, but you're just not smart enough to realize I am smarter than you, because you're on a lower (less divine) level.
(2) The Projection Card (i.e., I know you are, but what am I). By criticizing me, you are really just criticizing yourself, because any problem you see in me is just a projection of a problem in yourself.
(3) The Skillful Means Card (i.e., it's all your own fault, dickhead). The most potent card of all! It's not abuse; it's not pathetic or ridiculous or wrong; it's a crazy-wise teaching. You know, like Zen stuff. So when I call you a dickhead, it's not because I'm a dickhead, it's because you have a dickhead-complex that you need to evolve past, and I'm here to help you see that.
They are designed to end all discussion, and they are used only when folks know the actual substance of their beliefs has run, or is running, dry.... In other words, these 'cards' are used to create a situation where actual problem solving, critical thinking and good philsophizing... cannot be done."From comments on many Tolle-philic sites, it appears he suggests we all work towards enlightenment, but doesn't say how. If you can't do it, you're doing it wrong, but he won't say what's wrong. Maybe it's just not in you right now to do it.
The thing is, in other writings written hundreds of years earlier, there are specific techniques you can use to have a happier, more peaceful life, the type of like Tolle suggests you could have by reading his books. Check out what Montaigne has to say:
* Try to stay in the present (cultivate mindfulness) by maintaining an amazement at each instant of experience both outside and inside yourself. He did this by writing, in detail, about everything around him and contemplating his thoughts. Writing forced him to pay attention, but anything that keeps you involved in what's happening right now will work. Some people need to be hit with a stick from time to time. Whatever works. He says,
"When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me."* Don't let the world bring you down. If you're upset, keep in mind how much worse it could be. If your kids are irritating, imagine you just got a call that they all died in a tragic accident in order to shift your perspective so that you're suddenly grateful for their annoying little lives. If you're tired of your stuff, imagine having nothing, and how happy you'd be to have it all after contemplating losing it all in a fire. If the kids complain about dinner, remind them of how bad it would be if they lived in an impoverished country. They should be overjoyed to be eating spaghetti yet again. These are old tricks my parents taught me, but Montaigne suggests them too. You can talk this further to imagine that this is the last hour of your life. What really matters, and what can you brush off now?
* Keep in mind how insignificant you and your problems are compared to the grand scheme of things. Seneca said,
"Place before your mind's eye the vast spread of time's abyss, and consider the universe; and then contrast our so-called human life with infinity."Another advocate of this view in the Monty Python organ donor skit (starting at 3:45 in particular):
* A lot of Montaigne (and Tolle) is reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching, particularly when he suggests we would be better off contemplating ideas than memorizing facts. This one is a real relief in an age where there just seems too much to know. Montaigne says, "Forget much of what you learn." And Lao Tzu says, "The more you know, the less you understand." Facts aren't as firm as we give them credit for being. Suspend judgment on all these facts thrown at us. Who knows what's real.
* To keep me in mind of morality, my mom always said, "Don't do anything you wouldn't want published on the front of the newspaper." Seneca and Epicurus and Montaigne all suggest finding someone admirable and acting always as if that person is watching us.
* Distract yourself from what bothers you, particularly what you're unable to control. If that jerk at work makes you nuts, don't carry the annoyance home, but leave work with a mind to do something entertaining that will help you forget your troubles. This is a welcome break from the idea that if someone bothers us, we should delve deep into why it's such a problem for us, often going back into family of origin crap to determine if we're projecting our stuff on him, until the jerkiness is no longer so bothersome to us. Whew! I like that distraction idea much better.
Montaigne, and several older philosophers, say that generally, the secret to happiness is not to let your emotions get the better of you. These are ways to help you do that: Pay attention to right now, compare yourself to those worse off to feel better, keep the big picture in mind, don't obsess over details, act as if your idol was watching you, and distract yourself if you start losing it. The trick is, these are things to think about not just one or twice, but all the time. But, it is inevitable we will be sucked back into the drama of human desire and suffering surrounding us. That's okay. Just get back into it next time you remember and you'll feel much better.
You can't do the pure-being-ball-thing all day (from I (Heart) Huckabees):