In The Power of Now (1999), Eckhart Tolle explores complex philosophical issues in a very accessible manner. It poses interesting ethical questions around self-empowerment, free will and relationships. I have re-read this book recently and have become more aware of certain parallels with Nietzsche. Overall, it seems to me that the two authors arrive to similar conclusions, but coming from different angles. In this article I explore the concepts of metaphysic, free will and time.
METAPHYSICS - God and Being
The first point, comparing Tolle and Nietzsche, is the approach to God. Whilst Nietzsche declares that Gott ist Tot (1882/2020); Tolle decides to pick from different spiritual traditions, jumping from Jesus to Buddah and Taoism. At a first sight, the two positions seem opposite, but, in a way, Tolle is already thinking as if God was an outdated concept. He moves past the dogmatism of religions and picks what feels more relevant for his philosophical discourse.
Too often ‘God is Dead’ is understood to be a statement about religion, but it’s more complex than that. I think a good explanation (although not very straight forward) is given by Bazzano (2006). Bazzano explains how this is a statement against dogma in general and not just about metaphysics. Nietzsche says that the Übermensch (the 'beyond-man')doesn't need a god (or any superior entity) to define morals and ethical principles. So Gott Ist Tot is a statement about the end of the status quo in general.
When Eckhart Tolle talks about ‘Being’. We could be tempted to think that this is yet another metaphysical entity, but on the contrary he describes Being as ‘the ineffable reality behind the word’ (1999:11). So, whilst God is a ‘closed concept’ because it immediately reminds us of religion, Eckhart Tolle wants to open up to the ineffable reality. Tolle has already moved into the meta-perspective, which is exactly what Nietzsche intended when he announced the death of God. But Being is not just some sort of ‘meta-God’, it is a move forward (in a way it's the 'beyond-god'). The concept of 'Being' expands reality and invites us to look deeper into the ineffable reality of being (without capital) human.
FREE WILL - Amor Fati / Surrender
It’s interesting to think about Tolle’s description of surrender and Nietzsche’s Amor Fati. We can translate the latter concept as ‘Love of Fate’ or ‘Love of one’s fate’, in the sense of embracing one’s fate. Nietzsche did not invent the concept, of course, the Amor Fati was used by Epictetus:
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy”
We also find the Amor Fati in Marcus Aurelius:
"All that is in accord with you is in accord with me, O World! Nothing which occurs at the right time for you comes too soon or too late for me. All that your seasons produce, O Nature, is fruit for me. It is from you that all things come: all things are within you, and all things move toward you."
(Meditations, Hadot, 1998: 143)
Nietzsche explores his interpretation of the concept in the Gay Science (1887/2005):
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it."
In my opinion this concept is similar or even equivalent to what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘Surrender’. Tolle explains he does not imply passivity, but an active surrendering to life. Tolle is clearly more accessible for a modern reader and his language is more down to earth. His concept of surrender is very much in line with the philosophical tradition of the Amor Fati.
TIME - The Eternal Recurrence and the Now
The issue of time is articulated in very different ways by Nietzsche and Tolle.
Nietzsche takes his views directly from the Eastern traditions and talks about ‘Eternal Recurrence’, which is a more traditionally Buddhist concept. This means that time is infinite, but there is a finite amount of events, which recur endlessly. The concept was hard to elaborate and explain for Nietzsche, who defined the eternal recurrence as 'das schwerste Gewicht’ ('the heaviest weight’). At the same time, he talks about it as the ultimate affirmation of life.
Even if this topic is explored in both in the Gay Science (1988) and in Thus Spake Zharathustra (1885), it seems to me that it hadn't culminated into a final formulation for Nietzsche. In any case it makes us think that linear time is not the only option (linear time is past-present-future). What if time was a circle instead of a line? This concept can help us reflect on responsibility and free will. If my choices will need to be repeated cyclically ad infinitum, would I still choose what I'm choosing right now?
Gilian Deleuze (1983) tells us that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence is not a flat cycle. It is rather a possibility to add creativity in this ever-generated time. This would make time a spiral, rather than a circle, and would add more chances to change and develop.
Eckhart Tolle, on the other hand, talks about the Now as the only possible dimension. He says ‘Past and future obviously have no reality of their own’ (1999: 41) and when he talks about ending suffering, he states ‘here is the key: end the delusion of time’ (1999:40).
However, Tolle's final product is not far from Nietzsche's. It has something to do with presence and being in the here-and-now. We can only see both the future and the past from the Now. This means that the Now is the only possible place to be and to make choices from. Both the past and the future can only be accessed via the present moment. This means that it only makes sense to invest in the Now.
Tolle makes this concept the very centre of his philosophy. His statement that presence is the key to end suffering somehow echoes Eastern traditions, especially Zen.
‘The very essence of Zen consists in walking the razor’s edge of Now - to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot exist in the Now.' (1988: 43).
Even in the aspect of time, it is clear that there couldn't have been the Power of Now without Nietzsche to open the door.
Bazzano, M. (2006). Buddah is Dead. London: Sussex Academic Press.
Deleuze, G. (1983). Nietzsche and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tolle, E. (1999). The Power of Now. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Nietzsche, F. (1908/2005). Ecce Homo: Wie Man Wird, Was Man Ist. London: Penguin Classics Ed.
Nietzsche, F. (1882,1887/2020). The Gay Science. (German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft). Dover Thrift Edition: Dover Publications Inc.
Nietzsche, F. (1883-1885). Thus Spoke Zharathustra. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.