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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart: An Asian Perspective by Hee-Sung Keel (Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs: Peeters Publishers) Meister Eckhart (1260?-1328) is undoubtedly the most important thinker in the West for drawing the spiritual heritage of Christian mysticism close to the monistic spirit that infuses so much of Asian religious thought. His vision of the unio mystica of God and the soul as a perfect unity goes far beyond the conventional mysticism of love that was dominant before him. Eckhart's "mysticism of unity," a bold and revolutionary affirmation of a perfect divine-human unity realized in the ground of the soul, as well as the mysti­cal atheism it gave rise to, inspired a wealth of profound spiritual insights that continue to challenge the reader of his sermons today.

Without neglecting other aspects of Eckhart's mystical thought that are not easily reconciled with this radical vision of divine-human unity, the author takes a careful look at the nature of the Dominican master's mysticism, its philosophical background, and its implications for ethics and secular reli­giosity, drawing particular attention to its role in the East-West religious dia­logue and the shaping of a vision of the spiritual unity of humankind.

The mediaeval era in the West was a period when theology and philosophy were in harmony, and philosophy and spirituality went together. With the Reformation, however, the two began to fall apart irreconcilably: philosophy and theology, or reason and faith, pursued their own courses, often in sharp confrontation or with mutual indifference. Spirituality was virtually ousted from modem Western philosophy, and reason and spirituality became hostile to each other. This, I believe, is the major tragedy of modern West­ern thought, its fundamental spiritual poverty. This also accounts for my present interest in mediaeval thought in the West and the Asian religious traditions, where such a split was generally absent.

Modern Western philosophy, including its postmodern variety, which has long neglected the concern for transcendence and takes great pride in the "overcoming of metaphysics" as if it were an intellectual trophy, is in my mind unable to meet the deep spiritual needs of human beings. By this I do not mean to say that we, liv­ing in the post-metaphysical and post-Christian era, can easily go back to mediaeval spirituality, Western or Eastern. Nevertheless, it was a pure joy for me to find a spiritual treasure in a mediaeval thinker that I have not been able to find anywhere else for a long time. My joy was particularly enhanced when I discovered a deep spiritual consonance between Meister Eckhart and the thought world of Asian religio-philosophical traditions, especially Zen Buddhism. It was indeed a "revelation" for me. For, as a Christ­ian with an Asian background, I have been deeply concerned with the problem of a creative encounter between Buddhism and Chris­tianity, in my mind the two greatest religious traditions of the world.

As the title of this book, Meister Eckhart: An Asian Perspective, indicates, I have tried to illumine the thought world of Meister Eckhart in the light of Asian religious traditions in general. This reflects my conviction that the Dominican monk and most of the illustrious Asian religious thinkers share a fundamental belief in divine-human unity as the core of their thoughts. Many works on Eckhart already contain some reference to Asian thought, particu­larly Zen. What I have sought to do in this book is to demonstrate broadly a fundamental unity of spirit between Eckhart's mystical thought and traditional Asian religio-philosophical thought in gen­eral. I have thus alluded to their affinity whenever pertinent through­out the book. Originally written for a Korean audience, I have com­pletely rewritten the book with English-language readers in mind, incorporating more comparative materials into the book. But this is not a work of systematic comparison between Eckhart and a par­ticular figure or school of Asian thought, such as R. Otto carried out in an exemplary way in his classic, Mysticism East and West. My comparative work is interspersed throughout the book rather than concentrated in separate chapters. But there is clearly a con­sistent Asian perspective and theme — unmistakable to anyone who has even a minimum knowledge of Asian religions — which gov­erns my entire exposition of Eckhart's mystical thought. Let there be no misunderstanding, however. This is primarily a book about Meister Eckhart's thought, not about Asian thought.

Not being a specialist in scholastic philosophy or mediaeval Ger­manic studies, nor an expert in the Western tradition of spiritual­ity, I have benefited greatly from modern translations of Eckhart as well as many secondary studies of Eckhart's thought by competent scholars in the field. A student of comparative religion and a lay Christian theologian with an Asian background, I heard Eckhart's message in my own way. Hopefully, I have discovered something in Eckhart which has either escaped the notice of other scholars thus far or received less attention than deserved and can make some significant contribution to Eckhart studies.

My primary intention in writing this book is to share the great joy I had in discovering Eckhart's thought with many others.

Why is it that the bold and arrogant, even blasphemous-sounding words of Meister Eckhart, such as "I pray to God to make me free of God" or "Let us pray to God that we may be free of God" cap­tivate our minds? Why does he pray to God at all if he wants to be free of God? Perhaps it is because these self-contradictory words reflect so admirably our own state of mind that they "speak" to us — modern men and women who can neither believe in God nor renounce him with a clean conscience. More positively, it is per­haps because they resonate with our deep-seated yearning for a new concept of God, the yearning shared by Eckhart himself when he prays, "May God help us to outgrow all that is not God." We seem to hear in these prayers of the Dominican Meister a cry that rejects the God who has long been an accomplice in the innumerable crimes we humans have committed in his name, in order to meet a true God, the God who liberates rather than enslaves us, the God who does not rule over us like an omnipotent monarch but is closer to us than our own being. At any rate, the conventional distinction between theism and atheism is no longer valid or meaningful here. For what Eckhart has in mind here is the God who is not a God, a non-God (Nicht-Gott).' His is the world of so-called "mystical atheism.”

Then, what is so wrong with our ideas of God that Eckhart was forced to coin such an odd word as non-God?3 This was the first concern that led me to wrestle with this mediaeval mystical the­ologian. My dissatisfaction with the traditional Christian concept of God — at least the conventional one — along with my conviction that it no longer has validity for modern men and women and there­fore needs a radical revision, made me turn to Meister Eckhart's thought.

According to the conventional view, God is a transcendent being who created the world, and there is a qualitative ontological dif­ference between God and the world. True, the traditional concept of God did not entirely ignore divine immanence, but it is now widely agreed among scholars and theologians that the biblical notion of divine transcendence has brought about the desacraliza­tion of the world by severing the organic link between God and the world, eventually resulting in the disappearance of divinity from the world of nature. The creation myth in Genesis already suggests this. There, God, humans, and nature constitute three clearly demar­cated, if not separate, orders of reality; nature is not divine any more as in most of the ancient religious traditions, and the human being, created in the image of God, does not really "belong" to nature. Rather than viewed as intrinsically related to God, nature is presented as a resource to be used for human ends. No longer the object of reverence and awe as in polytheistic religions, it is not by chance that the desacralized nature came under the increasing dom­inance of our instrumental reason. Biblical faith may have liberated humans from bondage to nature, but it invited them to imitate the "supernatural" God, domineering over nature. Eventually,

they came to displace God altogether and became the sole master of the earth. Speaking from an ecofeminist perspective, Catherine Keller says as follows:

For ecofeminist reflection, or at least for my own spiritual sensibility, the language of "Creator" has, like that of "God," alienating reso­nances. In the ambiance of Christian civilization, "creation" does not evoke some cosmic icon of woman giving birth, with the sharing of substance, the messy mutual implication, the high valorization of mate­riality that any picture of the Creator as birth mother evokes. It smacks rather of the "over and above" — the very mode of transcendence that, when internalized, places humans over and above great female and nature-associated tracts of creation. "Creator" suggests some ex nihiio process of production whereby an artisan makes a pot and there­fore does with the pot, itself relatively lifeless, whatever he wishes.'

More seriously, the traditional concept of creation, which empha­sizes the ontological discontinuity between God and the world, already harbors in itself the seed of atheism. In the act of creation, commonly understood after the model of the human act of "mak­ing" rather than the more natural procreation or emanation, the world and humans are considered external to God. Not only does this view of creation raise the difficult problem of the origin of the primeval matter with which God forms the world; it contains the seed of atheism, insofar as it allows the very possibility of under­standing the world and humans apart from God. Although said to

be created by God and dependent upon him, they nevertheless exist "outside" of God and enjoy a certain degree of ontological auton­omy. Having no organic relationship to God, there seems to be no compelling reason to bring in the hypothesis of God in order to understand the world and the human being. Is it really a coinci­dence that atheism grew full-scale for the first time in the soil of the Christian West?

According to the traditional concept of God, creation was an act of God based upon his free will. In this view, there seems to be no neces­sity or cogent reason for God to create the world in the first place; he might as well not have created the world. In other words, the world is a contingent reality. Christian theology, as far as I am aware, has never come up with a satisfactory reason for God's "decision" to cre­ate the world. Creation looks like an arbitrary act of God and the world an accident. Ironically, isn't this precisely what atheists are saying, that the world is purely accidental, without any inherent purpose and meaning? In this view of creation understood as an external act of God, it does not seem to matter to him whether the world exists or not! Can we really love such a God, the self-subsistent and self-sufficient being who can exist alone without his nature affected in any way?

In the concluding chapter, "Vedanta and the West," of his insightful book on Hindu Vedanta philosophy, Hans Torwesten observes as follows from a comparative perspective:

When Western Christian theology debates Eastern religious systems such as Vedanta these days, its criticism repeats much that has always been used in arguments in the West against Plotinus, John Scotus Erigena, Eckhart, or even Spinoza. This always involves the defense of a personal god (already being the absolute); the unique­ness of the human individual (as created by him); the seriousness of original sin and the necessity of salvation "from above." It is often possible to come up with Vedantic counterarguments by cit­ing Plotinus or Spinoza; that is, by employing the language of a philosophia perennis which stubbornly survived alongside official

church doctrine, even in the West, and, despite dissimilitude of time and place, has remained surprisingly unchanged. The almost inde­finable "one" of Plotinus, the Nirguna Brahman of Vedanta, the shunyata (void) of Mahayana Buddhism, the supra-personal Tao, Eckhart's "source of the divinity" — it is as if the biblical creator-god were beleaguered by a unified front of negatives, by an "it" that does not "will" anything, but simply "is," or more precisely: neither is nor is not. When a "Creation" is accepted at all in these teachings, it is only as a kind of emanation from the one, as appar­ent separation from the absolute — never as involving a unique act of will.

Torwesten continues:

We have already alluded to this distinct difference: that, according to Vedanta, something is not "there" because God created it out of nothing (and could just as well not have created it), but because the infinite, by virtue of its own maya, appears to have become finite — without, of course, really relinquishing its transcendency. Anyone overlooking this significant difference in any East-West dialogue will be talking right past the other side, because two fundamentally dif­ferent ways of explaining existence are colliding here — in turn also affecting all other theological and philosophical notions, particularly those concerning salvation and release.5

There is no doubt that Torwesten is touching here the core issue in the dialogue between mainstream Western Christianity and Asian religious traditions, and that the doctrine of creation occupies the central place in it, affecting virtually all the other aspects of theol­ogy, anthropology, and soteriology. It is precisely because of this enormous gap that Eckhart drew my particular attention in my search for a form of Christian thought that can mediate between the two thought worlds.

Meister Eckhart is a mediaeval thinker. His metaphysical thirst for the One, his single-minded love of God and eternity, no less than the scholastic concepts and vocabularies that he freely employs not only in his theological writings but also in his vernacular sermons, are all typically mediaeval. As with any great thinker, however, there is something in his thought that transcends the limitations imposed by the age to which he belonged. He still "speaks" pow­erfully to us modern men and women. His sermons in particular continue to touch our hearts and souls as if we were listening to them delivered in his own voice.

One of the most amazing things about Eckhart's spiritual thought is the fact that it is remarkably free from the "dualistic" mode of thinking that has dominated Christian theology from antiquity down to the present day: the dualism of God and the world, the supernatural and the natural, grace and nature, the religious and the secular, this world and the other world, reason and revelation, as well as the dualism of spirit and matter, the soul and the body. True, such distinctions are not absent in Eckhart, but his thought is not built upon them; nor do they refer in him to two separate realms of reality. We can even say that there is only "one world" for Meister Eckhart. In this respect, his thought is in basic agree­ment with the great Asian religio-philosophical traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. In both Eckhart and Asian religions, transcendence is sought within, not without; it is directed toward the ground of one's own being, not toward the world above.

The crucial dividing line between Christianity and Asian reli­gions lies in the doctrine of creation. Simply put, there is no con­cept of creation in Asian religions, at least not in the sense of cre­atio ex nihilo. Asian thought generally conceived of creation — if we may still use this term — as a natural process of the world emerging or evolving out of primordial reality, rather than as a wil­ful act of an omnipotent God. Creation as the absolute beginning of all things by the fiat of the creator God is utterly inconceivable in Asian religions. As a Vedic sage asks, "How can being come from nonbeing?" In Asian world views, accordingly, one and many, God and the world, or God and the human being, are dis­tinguishable as the infinite and the finite, but are never separable ontologically. It is this lack of clear ontological differentiation between the creator and the created — commonly referred to as "monism" — that has been behind the persistent condemnation, verging on phobia, of "pantheism" in traditional Christian theol­ogy. From an Asian religio-philosophical perspective, however, the dualistic character of Christian theology poses the most serious intellectual stumbling block, as well as a spiritually unsatisfatory aspect of Christianity, in that, from the very outset, it posits the ontological rupture between God and the world, and the alienation of man from God, as the fundamental religious truth.

Christian theology recognizes a qualitative ontological differ­ence between God the creator and creatures. An infinite gap exists between the absolute being of God and the relative being of the created world, between the supernatural and the natural. Although everything that exists is said to be created by God and under the care of one ultimate reality, Christianity views God and the world as constituting a "dual," if not "dualistic," order because of the ontological gap separating them. To be sure, Christian theology also talks about divine immanence and many ways to secure some sort of ontological continuity between the creator and creatures.

Seen from an Asian perspective, however, Christianity appears as an inherently dualistic religion.

The qualitative difference between God and the world is also reflected in the view of the human being in Christianity. The gap between God and the human being is such that humans can never become God or be made completely one with him. In spite of the belief that the human being was created in the image of God and that God became incarnate as a person in Christ, the fact remains that Christianity has traditionally emphasized the unbridgeable dis­tance between God and the human being. In contrast to this, Asian religions have generally taught the immanence of the infinite within the finite. Accordingly, they hold up a perfect divine-human unity not only as possible but also as necessary for the highest spiritual attainment of all human beings. Since the absolute is always and already present within all human beings and every­where in the natural world, all we need to do is to realize this fun­damental truth. Consequently, self-realization or self-discovery has been the central concern in Asian religious traditions. Asian reli­gions are, in their highest aspiration, the religions of mystical unity between the infinite and the finite, a perfect divine-human unity. Everyone without exception can be a saint or sage in Asian religions. This sharply contradicts the Christian attribution of a special ontological status to Christ as the incarnate Son of God. We can never become Christ in Christianity. At the most, we can become the sons of God by grace or by adoption, whereas Christ is the Son of God by nature. In contrast to this, the Asian religions affirm without the slightest reservation the essential divinity of human nature and the universal attainability of the perfect divine-human unity.

As far as I am aware, Meister Eckhart is the most radical and daring thinker in Christianity to transgress the dualistic dividing line. And for this boldness he had to pay the price of being

condemned for spreading heretical ideas. But in our context today it is this unorthodox aspect of his thought that has singular sig­nificance for its potential to bridge the aforementioned wide gap separating Christianity from Asian religions and contribute to the spiritual unity of humankind, as well as to the spiritual regenera­tion of our age on a new basis.`For Eckhart, God and the world, and God and the human being, are inseparable, ontologically as well as spiritually. This is the theme I have constantly kept in mind and tried to bring out with emphasis in my presentation of Eckhart's thought. There is no need to go into its details again here. Let me simply mention some of its essential points, along with the comparative perspective that I have tried to bring to bear upon them.

First of all, as in the Hindu and Daoist ontology (Brahman, Dao), Eckhart's dynamic ontology, according to which the world emerges out of and returns to God as its origin and goal, views God and the world essentially as an organic unity; one cannot exist without the other. Certainly God is eternal and infinite whereas the creatures are temporal and finite, but the two never form a dual ontological order in Eckhart. God as the One is the source of being and life for all finite entities. As the "negation of negation," the infinite and dis­tinctionless God stands in a dialectical relationship to finite beings of a determinate nature. In God as the One the world of multiplic­ity is negated and affirmed at the same time. In God as being itself all finite beings are radically devaluated as "pure nothing," but at the same time valuated as wondrous beings shining with divine splendor. Nothing is alien to God, and nothing is peripheral. In the boundless God who is the being itself, everything that has being becomes the center of the universe, and even a paltry being like a fly counts as good as an angel.

I have illumined this vision of the world with the Mahayana Bud­dhist ontology of Emptiness and the Chinese Huayan vision of the world formulated as the interfusion of principle and phenomena and the interpenetration of phenomena and phenomena. Common to Eckhart's and the Huayan vision of the world is the view that all finite beings, great or small, beautiful or ugly, significant or insignificant, are directly related to the infinite and gain divine and cosmic significance; the hard and fast distinctions which separate them are transcended and alienations are overcome. Every finite being is turned into a medium of the infinite, and each and every thing becomes the center and the periphery of the universe at the same time. One major difference, however, remains between Eck­hart and Huayan. Eckhart does not develop the theme of interpen­etration of phenomena and phenomena as does Huayan, despite the possibility to do so on the basis of the idea of interfusion of the One and many in his thought.

If Eckhart's concept of God as the One and being itself leads us to encounter God in everything that exists, his concept of God as intellect makes us find God within our intellect, the very ground of our soul as well as of God. Intellect is for Eckhart noth­ing other than God present in the human soul as her pure essence and deepest ground. Thus, to find God in the ground of one's own soul, and to realize there the perfect divine-human unity, consti­tutes the core of Eckhart's "mysticism of unity" or "mysticism of the ground." According to Eckhart, it was this unity that was realized by the incarnate Son of God. When the Son of God became a man, he assumed not a particular person called Jesus, but universal humanity itself. This humanitas is intellect, the ground of our souls as well as of God himself. Thus Jesus was for Eckhart the perfect embodiment of humanitas qua intellectus. This perfect divine-human unity is also to be realized by all human beings in their own souls, not just in Christ alone; we all have to be born the Son of God who is not a bit different from Christ.

This is indeed the most significant agreement in spirit between Eckhart and Asian religions. For the supreme goal or the final des­tination of the human being in Asian religions is none other than the perfect realization of our humanity, which is divine in nature. Although Asian religions are by no means monolithic in their understandings of human nature, they all agree on its essential divinity. Thus in Confucianism it is understood as our moral nature endowed by Heaven, in Hinduism as the light of pure conscious­ness, and in Mahayana Buddhism as the Buddha-nature inherent in all sentient beings. In this context, I have drawn particular atten­tion to the striking similarity between Eckhart's concept of intel­lect and the Buddhist concept of Buddha-nature developed in Chi­nese and Korean Zen. Both are understood as the pure and empty but never-ceasing act of knowing that underlies all our mental activ­ities. By analogy to Zen experience of enlightenment as the act of Buddha-nature seeing itself, I have also tried to resolve a certain ambiguity surrounding Eckhart's concept of intellect caused by his two seemingly incongruous descriptions of it — one as the ground of the soul and the other as an highly active force seeking to pen­etrate into this ground.

The cardinal problem facing the human being for Eckhart as well as for Asian religions is how to realize our essential divine nature to the fullest degree and attain a perfect divine-human unity within us. How can we overcome our existential alienation from our own essential nature, so that we can be born as the Son of God or become a sage? I have construed this problem along the classical model formulated in a key Chinese Buddhist text, The Awakening of Faith in Mahãyãna, which addresses the problem by distin­guishing two aspects of enlightenment, original enlightenment and incipient enlightenment. The former refers to the Buddha-nature inherent in all sentient beings, whereas the latter refers to the enlightenment yet to be realized by us. Thus I have examined

Eckhart's concept of the birth of the Son — equivalent to Buddhist enlightenment — by distinguishing its three aspects: 1. God's eter­nal act of begetting his Son in his own ground, as well as in the ground of our souls; this is the metaphysical dimension; 2. the birth of the Son of God in Christ, that is, the event of incarnation; 3. the birth of the Son in our souls as our own event and experi­ential truth. Among these, the first two births, the metaphysical and the incarnation, correspond to the original enlightenment in Bud­dhism and constitute the ontological foundation for the birth of the Son in our souls.

The similarity of Eckhart and Asian religious thoughts goes fur­ther than this common Problematik and concern for the realization of essential humanity. They also show commonality in their con­cern and concrete method for spiritual practice, which is needed to overcome our existential alienation from our essential nature. In Eckhart it is detachment, and breakthrough as its culmination, that enables us to get in touch with the ground of our souls and brings about the birth of the Son there. In order to experience the birth of the Son in ourselves, the soul must be completely pure, simple, and "empty and free" of all alien images and ideas — even those relat­ing to God. Eckhart's way of detachment and the purification of the soul has many parallels in the methods of spiritual cultivation in Asian religions. Much like the Zen idea of no-thought and no-mind, detachment does not mean the absence of images and ideas, as much as the absence of attachment to them; it means freedom from the idea of self or self-attachment while we are engaged in thoughts and actions. The Daoist idea of no-action or the Hindu concept of karma-yoga, renunciation in action rather than of action, also shed much light on Eckhart's idea of detachment in this respect. All of them refer to the art of being free in the midst of daily life, the way to maintain mental purity while busy in thought or action. As for Eckhart's prescription for concrete spiritual

exercise for developing detachment — one of the most neglected topics in Eckhart studies — I have drawn particular attention to their Buddhist parallel, the cultivation of mental concentration and insight meditation in the Theravada tradition.

Eckhart's "ethics of the soul," which emphasizes our inner atti­tude and will rather than external behavior, agrees with the spirit of Asian wisdom in attesting that what ultimately deters our free­dom is not so much our external environment as our own self, not so much our doing in itself as our being. Thus Eckhart's detach­ment has nothing to do with flight from the world or escape from the activities of life often associated with the mediaeval vita con­templativa. It is not what we do, but what we are and how we do it that counts. As Eckhart says, it is not a particular kind of act which sanctifies us, but we who should sanctify our acts, whatever they may be.

Eckhart's ethics of the soul, which lays emphasis upon the purity of heart and will, enabled him to overcome not only the otherworldly spirituality but also the formalistic and casuistic morality of the mediaeval era, as well as the ethics predicated upon the dualism of the body and the soul. Despite the meta­physical devaluation of the world of multiplicity and time which Eckhart shared with other thinkers of his age, we do not find in his spirituality any antagonism toward the human body and the material world. Nor do we find in him lamentations over the toils and turmoils of life. As with the great masters of Asian spiritual­ities, especially Zen and Daoism, Eckhart's "innerworldly mysti­cism" was essentially free from the element of Gnostic dualism, as well from preoccupation with the problem of original sin. Overall, a healthy affirmation of the world and life characterizes Eckhart's spirituality. But Eckhart's ethics of interiority, with its exclusive focus on our inner attitude and motivation in moral acts, is not without its perils. Any ethics which neglects the visible consequences of an action can easily lead to antinomian licenses or be misued as justification for immoral acts in the name of "the purity of heart."

Eckhart calls the person in whose soul the birth of God has taken place "a true person." Eckhart's true person does not act with a purpose. He does not live for anyone else, not even for God. Like God himself, a true person does not live to fulfill any duty imposed by others or to pursue a goal prescribed by others. He does not "live for God but out of the God in himself." He just lives with­out seeking anything, without any reason, without any "why" to justify his life. Just as life lives only for itself, a true man lives for his own sake from the infinite within. This strongly reminds us of the Zen life of pure spontaneity that has "nothing to seek" and "nothing to do." Best exemplified by the Chinese master Linji's "true man without rank," it does not require us to seek anything from outside of ourselves or to rely on anything or anyone other than ourselves. Eckhart's admonition to the audience of his ser­mons, to live the authentic life of a true person, is echoed by Linji's thundering voice commanding his disciples to stand before him without any clothes on, naked to the skin and with nothing to rely on: no doctrine, no concept, no authority, no ritual, no institution, not even the Buddha or the Zen patriarchs!

Eckhart's spirituality reaches its highest point in this life of a true person with his or her plain and pure affirmation of ordinary life; it is a religion without religion, Christianity without Chris­tianity. Just as Linji's Zen threw away all the smells and tastes of Buddhism and became Buddhism without Buddhism, Eckhart's spirituality makes a great turn in the life of a true person who just lives. An entirely self-sufficient life, such as God would have, it does not seek help from religious authorities, not even from God. No God and no religion, just live! This is the ultimate message of Eckhart, the mystic of ordinary life.

This "nonreligious religiosity" of Eckhart's is not possible apart from his mystical atheism, which transcends the conventional dis­tinction between theism and atheism. Eckhart enters into this "athe­istic" spirituality by pushing the idea of detachment to its utmost limit whereby we leave God for the sake of God or break through the God of the Trinity to the hidden darkness of the Godhead. Without this radical breakthrough to the world of mystical athe­ism, without this relinquishing of the relational God of traditional theism, or without this act of "deicide," there can be no genuine celebration of life and this world, or a true affirmation of human­ity for Eckhart. How to believe in God in such a way that he does not alienate us from our own humanity, how to live a religious life without letting religion dehumanize us: this was the central concern in the Dominican's thought. And the way to do it was to break through the traditional dualistic mode of thinking to the world of mystical atheism and humanism, which moved Eckhart so close to Asian spirituality.

Yet this accounts for only half of Eckhart's thought, although it constitutes in my view its more distinct and unique aspect. The other half centers around Trinitarian theological concepts. Insofar as his theological thinking moved within the boundary of the Trini­tarian framework, Eckhart still worked under the influence of the dualistic thinking characteristic of traditional theology. How to rec­oncile these two aspects of his thought, the one rooted in the bib­lical and the Trinitarian concept of God, and the other rooted in Neoplatonic monistic ontology and spirituality, is still the most important and challenging issue in understanding Eckhart. Put in different terms, it is the problem of how to relate the apophatic and the kataphatic, the via positiva and the via negativa, in his thought. Closely related to this is the problem of how to reconcile the two contrasting themes in Eckhart's mysticism, to wit, the motif of the breakthrough to the modeless Godhead, and that of the birth of the

Son of God in the soul. That Eckhart was not always coherent in his thinking — most likely attributable to the dual stream in his thought — is reflected in his less than consistent distinction between God and the Godhead throughout his works, especially between God the Father and the modeless Godhead, despite his declaration that the two are as wide apart as heaven and earth. I have also questioned the adequacy of the concept of "image" used by Eckhart to express the perfect divine-human unity realized in intellect as the ground of the human soul and God. From the Asian perspective, relational concepts such as image and the Son appear inadequate to capture the simple unconditional identity of God and the human being in their ground.

I have reviewed some of the ways Eckhart scholars have tried to resolve this important problem caused by the dual aspect in his thought and set forth my own view. But I still remain sceptical whether it can ever be resolved to our complete satisfaction. While recognizing that both are essential aspects of Eckhart's thought, I have nonetheless placed more emphasis on its nondualistic aspect. I did this mainly for three reasons. Firstly, it is undoubtedly the more distinct and characteristic aspect of Eckhart's mystical thought that distinguishes him from other figures in the Christian mystical tradition. Secondly, for the reasons discussed above, it is what draws Eckhart's spirituality so close to Asian religions. Thirdly, it is in my judgment the form of religiosity that can pro­vide a new foundation for the much-needed spiritual regeneration of people living in the post-Christian era.

Eckhart's spiritual humanism based upon mystical atheism, which simply asks us to be what we are, has the power to appeal to all people regardless of their cultural background and religious belonging or non-belonging. It invites us to the spiritual vision that enables us to meet God everywhere in the world, transforming even the most insignificant things of the world into the dwelling places

of God, and to live our life out of God within, not for God with­out, transforming every gesture of our ordinary activities into an occasion of extraordinary experience.

May our Dominican's simple and pure message guide us as we seek a new path in our spiritual life that avoids the temptation of religious exclusivism and fanaticism, on the one hand, and the false promises of secular gospels, on the other.


Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart's Mystical Philosophy by Meister Eckhart, commentary by Reiner Schürmann new introduction by David Appelbaum (Lindisfarne Books) shows Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century Western mystic, as the great teacher of the birth of God in the soul that shatters the dualism between God and the world and the self and God. It is at once an exposition of Eckhart’s mysticism — perhaps the best in English — and, because Eckhart is a profound philosopher for whom knowing precedes being, it is also an exemplary work of contemporary philosophy. Schürmann shows us that Eckhart is our contemporary.

First published over 20 years ago, this book has lost none of its power. As a phenomenological treatment of the mystical philosophy of Eckhart, it is a classic. Schürmann takes the position that Eckhart's Latin works are like signposts, while his German works invite one to a way--the way of detachment, following the lead of Heidegger. According to Schürmann, Eckhart's mode of thought is not indicative, but imperative, an act of will not description: herein lay the difficulty Eckhart ran into with the Latin Scholastic language of his accusers. The translated sermons are well done, and the use of Angelus Silesius in the footnotes is instructive as to how Eckhart’s language became current in German. Schürmann does not make superficial comparisons with Zen or Heidegger as the last chapter indicates. Writing as if from experience, he describes the threefold movement of detachment, releasement, and “dehiscence” (splitting open) that leads to the experience of “living without a why” in which all things are in God and which is sheer joy. Going beyond that, he describes the transformational force of approaching the Godhead, the God beyond God. “A man who has experienced the same no longer has a place to establish himself. He has settled on the road, and for those who have learned how to listen, his existence becomes a call. This errant one dwells in joy. Through his wanderings the origin beckons.”

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