Meister Eckhart (Eckhart von Hochheim O.P., 1260 – 1327) was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire. Coming into prominence during the decadent Avignon Papacy and a time of increased tensions between the Franciscans and Eckhart’s Dominican Order of Friars Preachers, he was brought up on charges later in life before the local Franciscan-led Inquisition.
Eckhart’s best-remembered works are his highly unusual sermons in the vernacular during a time of disarray among the clergy and monastic orders, rapid growth of numerous pious lay groups, and the Inquisition’s continuing concerns over heretical movements throughout Europe. With the move of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon and the tension between the second Avignon Pope John XXII and Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV who battled for power, Eckhart as a preaching friar attempted to guide his flock, as well as monks and nuns under his jurisdiction with practical sermons on spiritual/psychological transformation and New Testament metaphorical content related to the creative power inherent in disinterest (dispassion or detachment).
The central theme of Eckhart’s German sermons is the presence of God in the individual soul, and the dignity of the soul of the just man. Although he elaborated on this theme, he rarely departed from it.
Tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII, his “Defence” is famous for his reasoned arguments to all challenged articles of his writing and his refutation of heretical intent. He purportedly died before his verdict was received, although no record of his death or burial site has ever been discovered. He was well known for his work with pious lay groups such as the Friends of God and succeeded by his more circumspect disciples of John Tauler and Henry Suso.
Meister Eckhart’s God Mind: Christian-Buddhist Dialogue
Meister Eckhart’s God Mind: Christian-Buddhist Dialogue is an article published on: http://mingkok.buddhistdoor.com/en/news/d/21946 by Wong Weng Hon
I write interfaith articles with a two-fold hope. Firstly, the “One Lord for All” must be comprehended on the common ground that there is one and only Truth of dependently co-arisen Non-duality governing everything. Non-duality is Non-self (Anatta) or Emptiness (Sunyata) that correlates the relative with the Absolute through co-creative energy of Dependent Co-arising (Pratityasamutpada). Secondly, besides knowing one’s own religion in sufficient depth, one must strive to comprehend the communal Truth of dependently co-arisen Non-duality that links all world’s major religions in one single thread. Non-duality is that single thread linking all creeds and all peoples. It is something like science whose central principle is universally applicable to both believers and unbelievers. Hence, there is only one Lord (Ultimate Principle) for all faith adherents. Many religions are many paths (truths) leading to the same God (Ultimate Principle of One Truth only). Even science is governed by the Lord or God. God is a name that represents all world’s creeds in terms of the one and only Ultimate Reality that creates and sustains existence everywhere. The ultimate Principle or Reality is dependently co-arisen Non-duality (Unity). Non-duality is the integration of the manifest relative truth and the unmanifest Absolute Truth. God is the Unity of the manifest (created) and the unmanifest (Uncreated). God is the Unity of yin and yang. God is the coincidence or unity of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum). The ultimate Reality of the middle philosophy of the Buddha is also coinciodentia oppositorum. Buddha (Reality)concept is panentheistic concept of God (Reality). Logically, Reality equals Reality as there is only one Reality or Lord. Therefore, Buddha equals God representing the same Truth or Lord for all.
Every world major religion admonishes us to relinquish the view of self (atta-ditthi) through the annihilation of reified concepts (prapanca-s) without exception. Every world religion informs us that Dependent Co-arising of Unity is real and separation between the multiplicity is unreal. If all religious adherents of diverse faiths “in-see” these aforementioned propositions, the entire world population of faith adherents are instantaneously united as a global family of unified Oneness of Non-duality. Non-dual Oneness means “One Lord for all of us” irrespective of the diverse beliefs in Krishnaism, Lao-tzuism, Jesusism, Sakyamunism, and Muhammadism. Non-duality is none other than mankind’s innate union with God just akin to that parts are intrinsically united with the Whole. Mankind are many and God is the One. Union with God is non-separation for all things or beings. Let’s us put the bipolar Truth into practice: Independent nations are the many and United Nations Organization is the One. Citizens are the many; a nation is the One. Members of a society are the many; a society is the One. The parts are the many; the Whole is the One etc. Can you see what has been unveiled?
In this article, I would like to utilize Meister Eckhart’s panentheistic Thought to promote and foster interfaith harmony. Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a celebrated German Theologian, philosopher and mystic known globally. He was a unique Christian Mystic because his pedagogy of the Bible Gospel resembles that of Sakyamuni Buddha. Yet he did not deviate from the quintessence of Bible Gospel. Schopenhauer commented precisely on Meister Eckhart’s works thus :
“If we turn from forms by external circumstances, and go to the sort of things, we shall find that Sakyamuni Buddha and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing; only that the former dared to express his ideas plainly and positively, whereas Eckhart is obliged to clothe them in the garment of the Christian myth, and to adapt his expressions thereto.” (Schopenhauer, The World as Will and the Presentation, Vol.II).
Schopenhauer’s view is supported by Pope John Paul II and the 14th Dalai Lama. They both opined that Meister Eckhart was one of the greatest and most original Europe’s Mystics. In fact, many Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish scholars have ascertained that his teaching of Bible Gospel is a resonance and a sense of common ground with the tenets of their respective religious traditions.
Definition of God
Expectedly, I discern that Meister Eckhart’s approach to God concept is panentheistic as he approaches the Reality of God through middle philosophy of coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum). For me, Panentheism is a more comprehensive interpretation of the bipolar Reality of divine transcendence (unmanifested) and immanence (manifested). It consummates the traditional definitions of God in terms of classical theism and pantheism. Panentehism syncretizes theism and pantheism. It constitutes a more comprehensive definition of God equal to the Reality of the universal Buddha. Panentheism resonates with process Buddhism, Non-dualistic Vedanta, Karmayoga of Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching of Taoism. The comprehensive definition of God is mirrored from the proposition “Dependently co-arisen Non-duality”. From Buddhist perspective, God (Reality) is none other than Dependent Co-arisen Non-duality.
Most interestingly, Meister Eckhart perceived Christian Enlightenment in terms of the birth of God in the soul. He put it brilliantly, “ It is certain and necessary truth that he who resigns his will wholly to God will catch God.” Whoever surrenders man’s will to God’s Will dwells in God through self-surrender. The self-surrender is the selfless life of Non-self (Anatta). From the Buddhist perspective, that it is transmutation of ego to Buddha-Nature or from duality to Non-duality is self-surrender. The surrender of self is complete submission to God. The submission of man to God is the melting of self into Non-self. Dissimilar paraphrasings convey the same divine Message.
Let’s us together examine and reflect upon some of Meister Eckhart’s penetrative Christian sermons. His sermons display close similarities with the Buddha Dharma terminologically and most significantly doctrinally. I personally conceive that anyone, having read his Bible Gospel works, would easily accept and support any movement of interfaith dialogue and harmony.
Meister Eckhart says thus:
“What I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly that he should be reconstructed in the simple good that God is and thirdly, that he should consider the great aristocracy which God has set up in the soul, such that by means of it, man wonderfully attains to God, and fourthly, of the purity of the divine nature.”
Meister Eckhart emphasized detachment from the world to see God. Detachment is not rejection of the world. Detachment is prevention of the arising of self or ego while living in the multiplicity of the world. The Christian weapon of detachment is nepsis. Nepsis is the inner prayer of attentiveness and watchfulness or heedfulness leading to the stillness, purification, illumination and perfection of the human intellect. In nepsis, a person is spiritually directed by God. Nepsis is parallel to Buddhist tranquility and insight meditation. It is a Christian powerful tool of detachment. Likewise, A Buddhist yogi executes detachment through mindfulness meditation. Buddhist mindfulness meditation is doctrinally structured on the four foundations of mindfulness (cattaro satipatthana). Satipatthana also stills, purifies, illuminates and perfects the intellect. In other words, in satipatthana, a person is spiritually directed by the Buddha Mind. Both Christian “nepsis” and Buddhist “sati” operate on the same basis principle of spiritual direction or empowerment of the same Lord of many different names. Names may differ but all names represent the same Lord. Spiritual direction helps in averting evils, doing good and purifying the mind through alertness and vigilance. Nepsis or sati guards the six sense doors well. Obviously, Christian “nepsis” is parallel to Buddhist “sati” ( “dhikr” in Islam).
Detachment is the annihilation of self-centric ego to abide in God or Buddha. The complete surrender or submission to God is the Christian soteriological strategy of detachment. Buddhist liberative strategy of detachment is derived from realization of Emptiness (Sunyata). Emptiness is Buddhist doctrine of Non-self (Anatta) and Dependent Co-arising (Pratityasamutpada). Reconstruction of self into Non-self is a return from a man to the Buddha or God. A Buddhist perceives that reconstruction is reaffirmation what has been negated to sustain the middle path. The Christian classic of Philokalia of Hesychia tradition are reliable authorities on the Christian contemplative prayer of the Heart. It is doctrinally parallel to the Sakyamuni Buddha’s discourses on four foundations of mindfulness (cattararo satipatthana) leading to stillness, purification, illumination and perfection of the human intellect.
Remembrance of God
Meister Eckhart says:
“When the mind is firmly fixed on God, the senses will obey it but when the mind drops away from God, the senses drop off from the mind and unruly.”
Fixing mind firmly on God is rememberance of God. Remembering God, a Christian’s senses are obedient or self-restrained, and vigilantly watchful to avert evils , to do good and to purify the mind. Most importantly, the rememberance of God is the path of nepsis. Nepsis is Christian contemplative tool of watchful awareness to cleanse the heart from the attack of satan. The nepsis culminates in the reunion with God. It is the state of complete watchfulness or awareness of the Ultimate Reality. Likewise, remembering the Buddha, a Buddhist’s senses are obedient or self-restrained, and vigilantly watchful to safeguard the six sense doors. The rememberance of the Buddha leads to right mindfulness and clear awareness of the ultimate Reality. It is the entrance into the door of Non-duality. Conversely, when one is forgetful of God or Buddha, heedlessness creeps in. As a result, the senses are unrestrained . Consequently, the indisciplined person becomes morally fallible and vulnerable. Provocation and temptation overcome him or her. The satan reigns over his senses and mind. Provocation and temptation defeat him or her. In the state of forgetfulness of the ultimate Reality, dualistic consciousness of a sentient or carnal being cuts off non-dualistic consciousness of the Buddha or God. The carnal or sentient consciousness eliminates the Buddha or God Consciousness. Conversely, the contemplative prayer of the heart silences the mind. It leads him to discernment heading towards the kingdom of God. Likewise, the mindfulness meditation stills the mind. It leads him to insight heading towards Nirvana. The Christian contemplation (inward prayer) and Buddhist mindfulness meditation are orientated to towards the awareness of the same ultimate Reality of Oneness. Oneness is the Lord dissimilarly designated as the God or Buddha. The Christian contemplative dwells in the Divine Nature. The Buddhist yogi abides in the Buddha-Nature. Divine Nature and Buddha Nature are of the same Essence of Emptiness and Dependent Co-arising of neither existence nor non-existence. Existence (eternalism) is the ontology of “It is”. Non-existence (annihilationism) is the ontology of “It is not”. Both existence and non-existence are illusions (mayas). There are many names but One God or Lord for All. Thus, we witness that Meister Eckhart Gospel preaching approach is parallel to Buddhist pedagogy. Pepsis is Sati and Sati is Nepsis. They differ in pedagogical approaches. However, they share the same soteriological goal of being watchful and alert to avert the pit of moral fallibility and vulnerability due to attack of satan.
When the mind is fully fixed on God, a Christian contemplative employs Jesus prayer to maintain his or her attention and mindfulness to ensure that God is the director. The path traversed is attention, mindfulness, stillness, purification, illumination and perfection. A Buddhist yogi also traverses a similar path through a psychological strategy rather than a spiritual one. The psychological strategy is the execution of tool of four-fold mindfulness (cattaro satipatthana) of body, feelings, thoughts and phenomena. Anyway. Psychology is connected to spirituality as God or Buddha is connected to the human mind. The awareness is that there is/are no body, feelings and thoughts belonging to I and there is no “I” who perceives the external phenomena. There is only one awareness that only unity of the five aggregates directs and empowers all sense activities. There is no permanent self or ego that regulates human activities. Only the Unity of the five aggregates is the director. The ‘I” is not the director. “I’ is an illusion. It never exists ultimately. The common use of “I” as an agent of sense activities is mental fabrication due to false imagination of the unreal. Metaphorically put, it is the mistakening of a rope as snake in darkness or mistakening of a magical elephant as a real elephant (Vasubandhu, Trisvabhavanirdesa). Such watchfulness and awareness develop total detachment. Detachment is equanimity. Equanimity liberates one from the prison of the bondage of Iness. In fact, I do not see any distinction between Christian mode of Jesus prayer and Buddhist mode of insight meditation. Jesus method leads to union with God. Sakyamuni method leads to entrance into the door of Non-duality. Union with God is Non-duality; Non-duality is union with God. In fact, Non-duality itself is God. Buddha is Emptiness; God is also Emptiness . They are of the same complete “Stillness” or “Silence” of the mind. The complete “Stillness or Silence” is the eternal now. The eternal now is eternity. We are all brothers and sisters in a single human family of Non-duality. May I ask: Can a Christian student reject a non-Christian teacher teaching him or her mathematics? Can a Buddhist vegetable seller reject a prospective non-Buddhist client? Can a Muslim police refuse to arrest a criminal just because the crime doer is a Muslim? Think about it. God or Buddha is everywhere. The Lord is closer to you than your jugular vein (Bible). The Lor is not distant from you. You are distant from the Lord (Tao Te Ching). Wherever you turn, you see the face of the Lord! Catch the Lord here and now. Catch the Lord in the New Lotus. In fact, the Lord is everywhere: A flower is the Lord; a leave is also the Lord .The Lord is in anything and in everywhere.
That the Buddha or Christ dwells in a sanctified person does not mean that the Buddha or Jesus is incarnated substantially in the flesh body of a liberated or saved faith adherent. Incarnation is a substantial view of duality. Buddhism and Panentheism are both advocate of the process Reality of dependently co-arisen non-duality of Oneness of Being. The sanctification of a delivered faith adherent is to be discerned through right paradigm of Buddha or God. The Buddha or God is the “Truth-Path-Life” (three in one) of dependently co-arisen co-creation of Non-duality involving the bipolar co-operative play of contigent conditions of humanity and divinity. The One Lord is not a substantial Entity but the Truth, Path and Life sanctified and graced by the knowledge of Non-duality of non-separation between primordial symbiosis between Man and Truth (Lord). The watchful awareness of this primordial bipolarity of phenomena (creatures) and Principle (Creator) constitutes the Christian experience of Jesus prayer of “nepsis” or the Buddhist experience nirvana of “sati”. Nirvana is the terrestrial experience of Pure Land within (jivan mukha). Pure Land is the Kingdom of God – the complete “Stilness” of the mind through contemplative inward prayer or mindfulness meditation. That God or Buddha is primordially inseparable from man is the right paradigm of Non-duality. Inseparation between all us, my dear brothers and sisters of all faiths, is the same esoteric Truth, Path and Life to be lived by all of us. This is the unceasing watchful awareness of the eternal now to be practised by all of us. Can you see a common thread of mindful vigilance connecting us? All different paths of mindful alertness and vigilance lead to the same pure, infinite consciousness of One Lord only for all. Rejoice in the interfaith harmony from now and treat each other like your own brothers and sisters in a single global family. May peace be upon you. May you be happy and well in your joyful living of here and now.