36 pages 1 hour read

Eckhart Tolle

A New Earth: Create a Better Life

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


A New Earth: Create a Better Life by Eckart Tolle was originally published in 2005 with the title A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The book followed in the wake of Tolle’s seminal 1997 work The Power of Now, which discusses the potential inherent in the present moment and suggests that the destructive voice in our heads, which causes us to be constantly dissatisfied and compare ourselves to others, is the ego and not our true self. A New Earth builds on those teachings, examining how the malfunctioning of the ego has shaped our world. Tolle also shows how the recent movement of “realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast” than the ego is creating a new type of consciousness that will lead to a different way of inhabiting the planet (21-22). The book is not only a critique of today’s ego-dominated society but also a vision for how consciousness in the present moment can be healing and transformative.

The early chapters introduce several of the text’s foundational ideas, including Tolle’s conception of consciousness and the ego. He asserts the intent of his book, which is to guide readers from a fearful and ego-driven worldview to a peaceful perspective that recognizes the unity between the self, others, and the universe. He draws a distinction between religion, namely text-based religions that rely upon words that originate from human thought, and spirituality, which aims to heighten our awareness of the interconnectedness of all life-forms.

These early chapters also explain how the ego functions and manifests in our everyday lives. According to Tolle, ego-driven individuals derive their self-worth from others’ view of their worth. They derive satisfaction and identity from various forms, like material possessions and social standing, and from the roles they play in life. Losing these forms and roles “can lead to a collapse of the ego, since ego is identification with form” (56). In contrast, conscious individuals relinquish these forms and yield to the present moment, which leads to peace, unity, and happiness, and ultimately to enlightenment.

Chapter 5 shifts from discussing the ego to discussing the pain-body, which Tolle characterizes as the emotional pain that accumulates when people “perpetuate old emotion” and refuse to let go of the past (140). To break free from the pain-body, Tolle asserts that we must avoid identifying with it, that we must accept the pain and then move forward to live in the present moment.

The final chapters examine human purpose, both our inner and outer purposes. Tolle warns that we are living in service of the ego when we derive happiness and purpose from the pursuit of future goals. He reasserts his belief that consciousness arises from living in the present moment; aligning our inner and outer purposes can lead us to such enlightenment, which will in turn lead to a new earth.

Celebrities and personal development leaders enthusiastically received the book. Oprah Winfrey featured it in her book club and partnered with Tolle to create a webinar about its themes. Due to Winfrey’s recommendation, the book topped Amazon’s best-seller list.

Conversely, the book earned a critical and even dismissive response from intellectual broadsheets, including The New York Times and The Guardian. Both newspapers highlighted the commercial timeliness of the book, with Jesse McKinley of the New York Times framing Tolle’s work as “part of a surging market” of “spiritually minded, mass-appeal” books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006) and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006). McKinley argues that while self-help literature has transformed itself for every generation, it has reached new heights since the dawn of the new millennium. (McKinley, Jesse. “The Wisdom of the Ages, for Now Anyway.” The New York Times, 23 Mar. 2008.)

The Guardian writer John Crace is even more disparaging than McKinley, stating that the mass appeal of Tolle’s work stems from the fact that it can mean “everything and nothing” depending on the reader’s level of spiritual enlightenment. Crace argues that Tolle’s prose is “virtually unreadable” in being “the kind of new age quasi-mysticism that you would have hoped had died out along with the acid casualties of the 60s.” (Crace, John. “Oprah Likes It, So It Must Be Good. Right?” The Guardian, 10 Mar. 2008.) Crace’s caustic humor indicates that he does not take Tolle or his message seriously and perhaps even considers Tolle a fraud. In addition to an obvious aversion to Tolle’s vague, one-size-fits-all formula for enlightenment, Crace is critical of spiritualism as a trend, especially when it becomes commercial. Thus, for both Crace and McKinley, Tolle’s message is obscured by the distractions of his prose style and commercial success.