12/08/2012 11:08 am ET

'What Is the Soul?' Eckhart Tolle's Answer

This season on "Super Soul Sunday," Oprah spoke with New York Times bestselling author Eckhart Tolle. It had been four years since their groundbreaking webcast based on Eckhart's book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. Here, the thought leader shares his answers to some of life's biggest questions.

OPRAH WINFREY: What is the soul?

ECKHART TOLLE: The "soul" is one of the words you can use to talk about your innermost being, the essence of who you are.

OPRAH: Have you always considered yourself a spiritual person, or did you have an aha moment when you recognized your connection to something bigger than yourself?

ECKHART: I had a big aha moment where I dis-identified from my mind and dis-identified from the unhappy self that I was.

OPRAH: You were suicidal. Was that what people call a nervous breakdown?

ECKHART: No, it was a state of acute anxiety, which could have become a nervous breakdown or could have become suicide.

OPRAH: Tell the story one more time.

ECKHART: I was in bed at night. Couldn't sleep, plagued by dreadful thoughts. The thought arose, I can't live with myself any longer. Some awareness came, and the awareness looked at the thought and said, "What does that mean, 'I can't live with myself?' Who is the 'I' and who is the 'self' that 'I' cannot live with?" The answer came: There was a separation suddenly of the "self" that I couldn't live with and the "I." And the "I" was consciousness. Suddenly the next day I woke up and everything was so peaceful.

OPRAH: Did your friends think you were nuts?

ECKHART: Some -- and my mother did, especially when I later walked out of my normal life.

OPRAH: They all thought, Eckhart has lost his mind.

ECKHART: Yes. And they were right.

OPRAH: In a way you did. How do you define spirituality versus religion? What's the difference?

ECKHART: You can have religion with spirituality. You can also have religion without spirituality.

OPRAH: Where do you feel most at home or at peace?

ECKHART: Wherever I am in the stillness.

OPRAH: Have you lost your ego?

ECKHART: Yes. Well, let's see. Who knows? Tomorrow it may suddenly appear again. You let me know if it does, because I wouldn't know it if it's really the ego.

OPRAH: Finish this sentence: "The world needs…"

ECKHART: Spiritual awakening.

OPRAH: "I believe in…"

ECKHART: Nothing in particular.

OPRAH: That cracks me up. That is an LOL-er. Okay: "Love is…"

ECKHART: The recognition of yourself, the essence of yourself in the other.

OPRAH: That's a good definition. "I'm grateful for…"

ECKHART: I'm grateful for always this moment, the now, no matter what form it takes.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed from Oprah's conversation with Eckhart Tolle on Super Soul Sunday, which airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.