Tolle was educated at the Universities of London and Cambridge. He was born in Germany but lived with his father in Spain from about age 13 until he moved to England in his early 20s. He did not attend formal schooling after age 13, but rather took language and other courses. He attended night colleges to obtain the necessary entrance requirements for University in England.
At the age of 29, he experienced a spiritual transformation that marked the beginning of an intense inward journey and the beginning of his function as a counselor and spiritual teacher. He now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .
Eckhart Tolle is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of 29 after suffering long periods of depression, dissolving his old identity and radically changing the course of his life. Tolle's non-fiction bestseller, The Power of Now, emphasizes the importance of being aware of the present moment as a way of not being lost in thought. In Tolle's view, the present is the gateway to a heightened sense of peace and aliveness. "Being in the now" also brings about an awareness that is beyond the mind. This awareness helps in transcending "the pain-body" that is created by the identification of the mind and ego with the body. His later book, A New Earth further explores the structure of the human ego and how this acts to distract people from their present experience of the world. His other works include Stillness Speaks, a book that modernises the ancient sutra form.
The aim of Tolle's teachings is the transformation of individual and collective human consciousness—a global spiritual awakening.
Core teachings include:
You are not your thoughts. You are the awareness behind the thoughts. Thoughts are often negative and painful, yearning for or fearing something in the future, complaining about something in the present or fearing a matter from the past. However, the thoughts are not you, although your ego wants you to think that. Awareness of your thoughts without being caught up in them is the first step to freedom.
Only the present moment exists. That is where life is (indeed it is the only place life can truly be found). Becoming aware of the 'now' has the added benefit that it will draw your attention away from your (negative) thoughts. Use mindfulness techniques to fully appreciate your surroundings and everything you are experiencing. Look and listen intently. Give full attention to the smallest details.
Accept the present moment. It is resistance to the present moment that creates most of the difficulties in your life. However, acceptance does not mean that you cannot take action to rectify the situation you are in. What is important is to drop resistance so that you let the moment be, and that any action arises from deeper awareness rather than from resistance. The vast majority of pain in a person's life comes from resistance to what is.
Observe the pain-body. Years of conditioned thought patterns, individually and collectively, have resulted in habitual emotional reactions with an apparent personality of their own. During 'pain-body attacks' we become completely identified with this 'pain identity' and respond from its agenda—which is to create more pain for ourselves and others. Observing the pain-body is awareness itself arising—as it allows humans to separate from this unconscious identification with pain.
Eckhart Tolle is not aligned with any particular religion or tradition. Influences which are alluded to in The Power of Now are the writings of Meister Eckhart, Advaita Vedanta, A Course in Miracles, mystical Islam, Sufism, and Rumi's poetry and Zen Buddhism's Lin-chi (Rinzai) school. The book also interprets sayings of Jesus from the Bible.
Some disciples of the Australian teacher Barry Long see Long's influence in Tolle's writings as well. Tolle attended Long's seminars in London in the mid-1980s, some years after his own self-described awakening. Tolle himself mentions briefly in an interview with John Parker that by listening to and having some conversation with Long, he understood things more deeply. In the same interview Tolle also mentions the influence of the Western-born Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho, and also speaks passionately of his appreciation of the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. He sees his own teaching as enabling the respective messages of the two latter to merge as one.
The first of his four books was The Power of Now, a #1 New York Times best-seller that has been translated into over 30 languages. He has also recorded numerous audio interviews and a video. American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey considers The Power of Now to be one of her favorite books.