Meister Eckhart

Some Information on his Writings prepared for the students of 
The Desert Church of the Learning Light


People say: "Alas sir, but I would prefer to stand well with God, to have the devotion and divine calm of some people," or "I wish I could be like this or as poor as that." Or they say: "It will never do if I cannot be here or there and do thus and so. I must get away - or go into a cloister or a cell."

The truth is that you yourself are at fault in all this and no one else. It is pure self-will. Whether you realize it or not, there can be no restlessness unless it come from self-will, although not every person understands this. This is what I mean: people fly from this to seek that - these places, these people, these manners, those purposes, that activity - but they should not blame ways or things for thwarting them. When you are thwarted, it is your own attitude that is out of order.

People ought not to consider so much what they are to do as what they are; let them but be good and their ways and deeds will shine brightly. If you are just, your actions will be just too. Do not think that saintliness comes from occupation; it depends rather on what one IS. The kind of work we do does not make us holy but we may make it holy. However 'sacred' a calling may be, as it is a calling, it has no power to sanctify; but rather as we ARE and have the divine being within, we bless each task we do, who have not much of [God's] nature, they work in vain.

Thus take care that your emphasis is laid on being good and not on the number or kind of things to be done. Emphasize rather the fundamentals on which your work depends.  To the man who cleaves to God, God cleaves and adds virtue. Thus, what you have sought before, now seeks you; what once you pursued, now pursues you; what once you fled, now flees you. Everything comes to him who truly comes to God, bringing all divinity with it, while all that is strange and alien flies away.

On solitude and the attainment of God.
 One ought to keep hold of God in everything and accustom his mind to retain God always among his feeling, thought, and love. Take care how you think of God. As you think of him in church or closet, think of him everywhere. Take him with you among the crowds and turmoil of the alien world. . You should maintain the same mind, the same trust, and the same earnestness toward God in all your doings. Believe me, if you keep this kind of evenness, nothing can separate you from God-consciousness.

On the other hand, the person who is not conscious of God's presence, but who must always be going out to get him from this and that, who has to seek him by special methods, as by means of some activity, person, or place - such people have not attained God. It can easily happen that they are disturbed, for they have not God and they do not seek, think, and love only him, and therefore, not only evil company be to them a stumbling block, but good company as well - not only the street, but the church; not only bad deeds and words, but good ones as well. The difficulty lies within the man for whom God has not yet become everything. If God were everything, the man would get along well wherever he went and among whatever people, for he would possess God and no one could rob him or disturb his work.

Thus perfectly to have given up one's own is to be merged with God, and then anyone who will touch the man must first touch God, for he is wholly within God and God is tongue and there by tasted; but if my tongue is covered with a bitter coating, then however sweet the wine, it will taste bitter, because of the coating through which it reaches me. This is how it is with a person who, having given up all that is his own, is coated with God, so that no creature can touch him without first touching God, and whatever reaches him must reach him through God. Thus it gets its flavor and become divine. "Where your mortal self ends, there God begins to be. God asks only one thing of you; that you dethrone the creaturely self and let Him be God in you."

Again and again he speaks of a faculty of the soul that is above time and mortality, knowing the perfection of Eternity; and of a soul- foundation that is Divine. "Here the core of God is my core, the ground of my soul is God's ground . . . In all you do, act from this core." God is with us on that ground, provided He finds us within and not gone out on the business of our five senses."



The first point which must be grasped in the distinction between "God' and the 'Godhead'. There is - and this is the core of Eckhart's entire doctrine - there is a central mystery, which forever lies beyond the range of knowledge. He whom we call 'God' is the Divine nature manifested and revealed in personal character, but behind this Revelation there must be a Revealer - One who makes the revelation and is the Ground of it, just as behind ourself-as-known there must be a self-as-knower - a deeper ego which knows the me and its processes. Now the Ground out of which the revelation proceeds is the central mystery - is the Godhead. It cannot be revealed because it is the Ground of every revelation, just as the self-as-knower cannot be known because it is precisely that which does the knowing, and this cannot itself be caught as object.

The unrevealable Godhead is the Source and Fount of all that is, and at the same time the consummation of all reality, but it is above all contrasts and distinctions. It is neither this nor that, for, says Eckhart, in the Godhead, "all things are ONE thing" - all the fullness of the creatures (i.e. created things) can as little express the Godhead as a drop of water can express the sea.

"All that is in the Godhead is ONE. Therefore we can say nothing. He is above all names, above all nature. God works so doth not the Godhead. Therein they are distinguished - in working and not working. The end of all things is hidden Darkness of the eternal Godhead, unknown and never to be known."

Nobody has gone farther than Eckhart in the direction of removing all anthropomorphic traits from God, i.e. the Godhead, but the result is that He is left with no thinkable characteristics. He is not an 'object' for human understanding. He utterly transcends knowledge, and everything one says of Him is untrue. "Be still," he says in a sermon, "and prate not of God (i.e. the Godhead), for whatever you prate in words about Him is a lie and is sinful." "If I say God is good, it is not true; for what is good can grow better; what can grow better can grow best. Now these three things (good, better, best) are far from God, for He is above all," i.e. all such distinctions. No word that voices distinctions or characteristics, then, may be spoken of the Godhead"; Eckhart's favorite names are; "the Wordless Godhead"; "the Immovable Rest"; "the Still Wilderness, where no one is at home".

All mystics have insisted that God in His essence is beyond "knowledge," for "knowledge" must deal with a finite "this", or a finite "that", while God in His absolute reality must be above any "this" or any "that". Eckhart's "nameless Nothing" is only a bold way of saying that the Godhead must be above everything that limits or defines - above everything that can be "thought" or envisaged. As he himself says; "In the Naked Godhead there is never form nor ideas," i.e. there is nothing thought can seize. "He is an absolute, pure, clear ONE" - "the impenetrable Darkness of the eternal Godhead." The unoriginated Being, the Ground of all that is, is the central mystery and he who would fathom this mystery must transcend knowledge, must have recourse to some other form of experience than that which defines and differentiates all the knowing process does.

The reader who finds himself somewhat dazed in this height of speculation would run into the same difficulty himself, if he should undertake strenuously to think out what is involved in the word Infinite which he, without giving it much thought applies to God.

He supposes that he glorifies God by calling Him "infinite" or "absolute", but in doing it he has, whether he realizes it or not, raised Him above "knowledge" and has "reduced" Him to an empty indeterminate abstraction which for thought is as truly "nothing" as it is "everything"

To return to Eckhart, God - the personal God - is the self-realization, or revelation, of the Godhead, the forthcoming of the Godhead into personalization and the manifestation. The Godhead is the "unnatured Nature", i.e. the unoriginated Reality, the Divine expressed impersonal form. The Godhead is the Wordless One; God is the uttered Word. The procession of God, in Eckhart's system, is by no means the same thing as the Divine Emanations in the system of Plotinus and his followers. For Eckhart there is no mere "overflow" of the Godhead - his idea is much subtler than that. The forthcoming of God is in this wise. The Godhead, "the unnatured Nature", in an "Eternal Now", beholds Himself, i.e. becomes an object of consciousness to Himself, and thus He becomes revealed to Himself. This is the beginning of the process of revelation. This is called "the begetting of the Son", the uttering of the Divine "Word". When God becomes conscious of Himself, there is differentiation into subject and object, or, as Eckhart says, into Father and Son. But we must not suppose that it happened at a temporal moment, before which the Son was unborn and God was not yet God. That view is too crude. Eckhart insists that the Son is eternally begotten; "He beholds himself in an Eternal Now"; "God is ever working in one Eternal Now, and His working is a giving birth to His Son. He bears Him at every instant".

The real world is the world of archetypes - divine Ideas - and that world is not created, it always IS. "God", he says, "creates the world and all things in an ever-present now". So that by a temporal regress we should never get back to a time when God existed alone as a naked Godhead, for without the Word, i.e. without the Son, without the expression of Himself God would not be God. This Divine procession is therefore not an "event" in time, and this temporal world characterized by multiplicity and change, this world, is sundered heres and nows, is only a show world, a shadow of the Real - the Real read through the goggles of space and time. "In the Godhead". He says, "there is no number for He is One, but in time and space there are divisions - parts. If my face were eternal, and I held it before a time-mirror, it would be received by the mirror in time yet it would in itself be eternal." So, too, the real world is an eternal unity in God; the

To the man who cleaves to God, God cleaves and adds virtue. Thus, what you have sought before, now seeks you;

God; the temporal world is a show or reflection, but a reflection of an eternal reality.

". . . there is in us an unnatured nature - the essence and ground of the soul. "There is in the soul something which is above the soul divine, simple, rather unnamed than named." This originated essence Eckhart calls by various names, though he insists that names are of little value. He calls it "Spark", "Little Glimmer of the Soul"; "The Soul's Eye"; Moral Conscience, and "Active Reason". But as Eckhart tells us, names help us very little; we must try to grasp what he has to teach us of the real nature of the soul, for it is Eckhart's main contribution to mysticism.

The soul must withdraw not only from possessions and "works", but it must also withdraw from all sense experiences, from everything in time and space, from every image of memory, every idea if the understanding into an experience in which "all things are present in one unified now and here." Such an experience is possible, he believes, because the soul possesses inalienably a faculty of higher consciousness. This higher consciousness is the Active or Creative Reason. There are running through Eckhart's writings two views, which are never quite reconciled by him. Sometimes the Divine "Spark", by which the soul rises to "new birth" and to contemplation, in " an Eternal Now," is thought of as the unoriginated essence, or ground of the soul. It remains in the Godhead, it has never "come out" from God; it is the Such an experience is possible, he believes, because the soul possesses inalienably a faculty of higher consciousness. This higher consciousness is the Active or Creative Reason. There are running through Eckhart's writings two views, which are never quite reconciled by him. Sometimes the Divine "Spark", by which the soul rises to "new birth" and to contemplation, in " an Eternal Now," is thought of as the unoriginated essence, or ground of the soul. It remains in the Godhead, it has never "come out" from God; it is the point in common between the soul and its Divine Ground. Eckhart says in a bold passage: "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which He sees me."

In his later teaching the "spark" is a hidden higher Ground of the soul, above Reason (for Reason knows before and after). It is thought of as an unoriginated essence, beyond all distinctions of before and after, a naked nameless entity, stripped of change, bare of qualities, freed of all desire, transcending Reason and will, "It is", he says, "higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is distinction." This peak of the soul is one with the Godhead, and would remain unlost, even if the soul were in hell. We need not, however make much of the difference between the earlier and the later teaching. In any case Eckhart holds that at bottom (or at top) the soul and God belong together. "The Father," he says. "knows the difference between thee and Himself" - "The Father makes me Himself and Himself me." The return of the soul to its Divine centre, to its "Spark," is blessedness - is salvation. Eckhart calls it "the begetting of the Son " in man. It is the process by which the soul gets free of sense and lower consciousness and rises to an immediate experience of God. This experience comes as soon as the soul withdraws into its Ground, for there God and the soul are one.

Again and again he says that when the soul rises into its own Ground, it becomes one with the Godhead in an Eternal Now. The twain becomes a single One. He even says that then - in this union- God brings to birth His Son in Himself and in me! "I am so one with Him that He makes me as though I were not parted from Himself, and the Holy Ghost takes his origin from me as from God since I am in God. If He did not take His birth from me, He would not take it from God, for God makes me as though in no wise separate from Him."

In another sermon he says: "When I attain this blessedness of union, then all things are in me and in God, and where I am there God is, and where God is there am I." But here he still does not go over into sheer pantheism - the soul's identity is not lost in God. "I might ask," he says, "how it stands with the soul that is lost in God? Does the soul find itself or not? To this I will answer,

as it appears to me, that the soul finds itself at the point where every rational being understands himself with himself. Although he sinks and sinks in the eternity of the Divine essence, yet he can never reach the ground (i.e. bottom). Therefore God has left a little point wherein the soul turns back upon itself and knows itself to be a creature."

Excerpted from
Blakney translation of Meister Eckhart
Rufus Jones "Mystical Religions"

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