There are some characteristic and predictable onesidednesses (if I may use that word), superficialities and omissions in Tolle’s understanding and presentation, not least of the New Age, pop-psychological, and politically correct variety. Given his focus on the analysis of time and the spiritual significance of the Now, his seemingly only superficial awareness of the important analyses of time in modern phenomenology is somewhat disappointing from the philosophical perspective. Still, he gives the impression of being basically a serious, authentic, and intelligent spiritual teacher.
I add that, defending an alternative modernity which selectively affirms tradition, and not being a traditionalist in the Catholic or even, in every respect, in the Guénonian sense, I do not entirely reject the work of people classified as belonging in the New Age category. It often contains much of obvious truth and value, although it has to be approached with critical discernment.
Not least important about Tolle is simply the fact that he is a spiritual teacher of this kind. That he is serious, and that he not only is in the West but is a Westerner, speaking from within a Western perspective while having assimilated also the teachings of the East. This is a new phenomenon and a new kind of social and cultural role and identity, arisen in the twentieth century. And it is, it seems to me, central to the salvation, or spiritual enlightenment, of the West.
At the same time, it seems this situatedness almost automatically brings with it the mentioned, characteristic New Age weaknesses, the general adaptation to various aspects of romantic liberalism (if it can be thus summarized) and, not least, the constant need to present one’s own teachings in terms of a reinterpretation of the long-dominant religion of the West, Christianity, or of Abrahamism in general, a reinterpretation which is inevitably and rightly seen by Christian theologians as simply wrong. Tolle’s superficialities in this area are obvious.
Most modern Indian teachers, and not just those who came to the West, are guilty of it too; they set a problematic example for the Western ones we now see. It is easy to see why this kind of reinterpretation is inevitable in many cases. But it would be much better if teachers like Tolle tried to minimize it, to focus instead of presenting the Eastern teachings more strictly in accordance with their own traditions alone, and, in their necessary effort of cultural integration, to reflect more carefully on the differences between them and the Abrahamitic religions, citing the latter with more discernment, and drawing instead perhaps more directly on aspects of Western idealistic philosophy and forms of Western esotericism that are more independent of Biblical reinterpretation.
Abrahamism should be seen for what it is, and, indeed, partly appreciated for what it is, on its own level, without being twisted to express always the same truths as Hinduism and Buddhism. Traditionalism, or what I prefer to call soft traditionalism, stands for proper discernment, in contradistinction to facile New Age syncretism.
But perhaps the reinterpretation of Abrahamism, even by way of the characteristic New Age and pop-psychological teachings by means of which the Eastern teachings themselves are at the same time reinterpreted, is for many Westerners a necessary stage in the process of going beyond it. We have perhaps moved so far from the historical meanings of the Bible that few understand the theologians’ objections anyway. Even so, there will still be important cases, and perhaps not exclusively among scholars, where it must be stressed that it is a matter of a new teaching presented by means of seemingly familiar Biblical terminology and Biblical quotes.