Buddhist and Hindu philosophers tend to quote from the New Testament, claiming its wisdom as their own, offering an interpretation that erroneously coincides with their own beliefs. Eckhart Tolle, Oprah’s guru, quotes liberally from the NT. Here’s one example:
- “The wisdom of this world is folly with God” [1 Cor. 3:19]. What is the wisdom of this world? The movement of thought, and meaning that is defined exclusively by thought. (A New Earth, 196)
What did Paul mean by “the wisdom of the world?” He was contrasting the “wisdom of world” with the “wisdom of the God.” He denigrates the “wisdom of the world,” claiming that this arrogant wisdom is blind and fails to acknowledge God (1 Cor. 1:20-21). However, Paul claimed that he was teaching a godly wisdom – a real wisdom - to the mature (1 Cor. 2:6).
The Bible is not opposed to wisdom, but rather an arrogant, human-based “wisdom.” Even the context, from which Tolle quotes, affirms this fact:
- Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. (1 Cor. 3:18-19)
Tolle wrongly extracts this verse from its context to argue that Paul writes against all wisdom. However, Paul writes only against an arrogant wisdom that thinks itself wise. Instead, such a man would have to humble himself so that he might really “become wise.” Consequently, it is not wisdom that is denigrated but an arrogant wisdom.
In light of the many biblical affirmations of wisdom, Tolle’s interpretation has to be rejected.
However, according to Tolle, there is absolutely no wisdom, because all “wisdom” relies on thought:
- Thinking isolates a situation or event and calls it good or bad, as if it had a separate existence. Through excessive reliance on thinking, reality becomes fragmented. This fragmentation is an illusion, but it seems very real while you are trapped in it. And yet the universe is an individualistic whole in which all things are interconnected, in which nothing exists in isolation. (196)
According to Tolle and many Eastern thinkers, reality is one, and therefore, one part can’t be separated from the rest. In essence, there are no parts but a single unity. It would be like trying to study the function of the heart by ripping it out of the body, of which it is part, to measure its functioning. Likewise, according to Tolle, our thinking is based upon studying parts in isolation – a distortion of reality.
Tolle then applies his concept of oneness to morality, claiming that we can’t make moral judgments about isolated events. We cannot say that one action is “good” and another one is “bad.”
- The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of “good” and “bad” are ultimately illusory. They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily. (196)
In order to support his claim, he tells a story about a man who wisely refused to judge “bad” events. At the end, what had seemed to be bad turned out for good. While it is true that many things that seem to be bad really produce good, his conclusion that “good” and “bad” are “ultimately illusory” depends upon making a moral judgment – the very thing that he claims we can’t do!
Besides, if we can’t make moral judgments because of the “interconnectedness of all things,” then we also cannot make judgments about the physical world. Hence, we cannot do science!
Also, if wisdom and thought are ultimately illusory or even “true only relatively and temporarily,” then what can we make of the books he has written. They are laden with thoughts. If these thoughts are “true only relatively and temporarily,” then we shouldn’t take anything he has written seriously.
If his stance seems illogical, perhaps it is. Perhaps Tolle needs to go back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, some Eastern thinkers retort that logic is the “invention of little minds.” However, if this is so, how then can we assess any claim? I guess all that we can do is to eat, drink and be merry. But I fear that logic is required for even these elementary activities.