Eckhart Tolle on Prayer

Q: From the time I was a little girl, I was raised as a Catholic. I went completely full circle to denying God, not believing in God.  And now, thanks to a large extent what you teach and share, I know that connectedness is there, awareness, Stillness is there.   But I got the thought, why do I pray?  Because if God is all-knowing, omnipotent, all-loving, and so on, I don’t think he/she/it needs me to say, “Psst – my friend is dying of cancer, can you help her?”  I don’t think it’s necessary, but I enjoy praying.  I’d love to hear your thoughts; what would be appropriate to pray for?  Do you believe in prayer?

ET: Perhaps you can upgrade your prayers from petitionary prayers (“please make this happen”) to little mental pointers, towards peace for example.  Little mental pointers still use concepts, because every prayer consists of words and concepts – to point, to help you go beyond concepts.  You could say, for example, an affirmation – like what Jesus said, “I am the light of the word”.  It’s an affirmation – it’s a concept, it points to a reality far deeper than the words.  You can say, if you still want some petition, “please let me know that I am the light of the world”.  Duality is implied usually, in the usual prayer.  It implies that there is God, and here is me, asking God.  That duality is ultimately an illusion, because you are an expression of God.  You and God merge.  The deepest prayers, then, are no longer prayers as such.  They are when you adopt a listening attitude rather than a saying of words.  As long as you enjoy it, that’s fine.  But gradually get away from asking somebody to do something for you, because that keeps you stuck in duality.

Affirmations, if they are done rightly, can be very beautiful substitutes for prayers.  “I am healed and whole and at peace”.  And after that, let there be a space.  And really, the power is in that space.  In the space, you experience that you are already whole.  The outward form might tell you something different – “I am holy”, A Course in Miracles says.  You are, and so it’s simply an affirmation of how it is.  Healing, for somebody else – you are either with that person, or that person comes into your mind, that person may be ill.  The most powerful healing, I find, is to hold an image of that person and then go deeper into yourself, where the wholeness of life lies.  Where nothing is needed, nothing needs to be added.  There you find the wholeness also of that person – they are already healed at the deepest level, beyond form.  So you go from form, into formlessness.

That is the healing that was practiced by Joel Goldsmith, he has a lovely book called “The Art of Spiritual Healing”.  That is really not to dwell at all on the condition that needs to be healed, but to focus on the essential reality of that human being which is one with your essential reality, and go into deep Stillness where nothing is needed.  He would often get phone calls, sometimes in the middle of the night.  Someone would desperately need healing, and they would tell him the name of the person and what they were suffering from.  What he would then do is immediately put the phone down and go into absolutely no thought.  For a moment he heard the name of the person, he heard what was wrong with them, and immediately let go of that, then for two or three minutes went into no thought – just absolute presence.  There is absolute perfection in the realm of the formless.  And that is the essence of the person who needed healing.  So you take the form into the formless, where the form is no longer.  No condition to be treated, nothing is needed, just go into that.    That was his way of healing.  He was quite a powerful healer.  That is the ultimate form of healing, and that really is the non-dual kind of prayer.  It’s going beyond prayer where you say “Please God, heal” – you go to the very Source itself, that is inseparable from who you are, and is inseparable from who that person is.

Prayer can gradually become listening to God rather than talking to God.  What does listening mean?  Listening means there is a field of bare, pure attention.  Listening does not mean that you are waiting for some answer, because then you are not really listening.  In listening you are not waiting for anything – there is just a field of pure attention.  That is a much deeper prayer than any words.  True prayer is where prayer also becomes meditation.  Not even wanting an answer, it’s enough to be in the silence.  Sometimes an answer comes, or the thing becomes resolved, sometimes, suddenly.  Listen.  Any trouble in this world, any disturbance, and they happen all the time – people around you, or a disturbance in the mind, goes into pure aware, listening presence.   Listening is a way of speaking about presence.   When you are present, it is as if you are in a state of listening.  Now, listening is usually associated with the auditory sense perception.  But this listening goes beyond the auditory sense perception; it’s the state of consciousness that underlies the auditory sense perception.  Everybody knows what that is like – because when you are really listening for some faint sound, what is the state of consciousness that underlies this listening for the faint sound?  It’s a state of absolute, relaxed alertness.  So when we say listening, it’s a helpful thing because everybody knows what listening means.  I am just pointing out that it’s not the external sense perception that is the essence in listening; the essence in listening is the underlying state of consciousness, of absolute receptivity and alert presence.

This is why I believe that Jesus had parables about the servant and staying awake, because he doesn’t know when the master is going to come home.  Many of the things have come down in a somewhat distorted way, because it was transmitted verbally, and then written down, and in the process some things got turned around or went missing.  I think he was talking about the attitude of that – a state of consciousness, the servant waiting just to hear the master come home.  It’s waiting in a different sense from the normal thing that we call ‘waiting’, which is the mind saying “When is it going to happen? Why isn’t it happening yet?” – he uses waiting in a completely different sense.  Many times Jesus talked about staying awake, that’s a very important part of his teaching – stay awake, don’t go to sleep, stay present.  Any words you use in prayer, use them as pointers toward that.  You could say “I am listening”.



angelika 25th July 2011 9:57 am

Thank you Eckhart,
something fell into place for me whilst reading this article. Now it's back to practising consciousness, yet again. :)

Love & Blessings,


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Author Information

Eckhart Tolle

Spiritual Teacher and author was born in Germany and educated at the Universities of London and Cambridge. At the age of twenty-nine a profound inner transformation radically changed the course of his life. The next few years were devoted to understanding, integrating and deepening that transformation, which marked the beginning of an intense inward journey.

Books from Eckhart Tolle

Oneness With All Life Cover image
Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth Cover image
Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now Cover image
Eckhart Tolle


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