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The Mystical Thought Of Meister Eckhart



Gelassenheit mean "releasement" or "letting go." The term is an old one in German intellectual history, from the theologizing of Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) to the religious thought of Reform Anabaptists and early modern mystics, to its 20th-century revival in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.Heidegger acknowledged that his use of Gelassenheit was inspired by Eckhart. Threads back to Eckhart's themes of will and detachment are discernable in Heidegger's later thought, culminating in his own concept of Gelassenheit. Further, these themes have special relevance in Eastern thought as well, where interest in both Eckhart and phenomenology is keen. The following essay explores Meister Eckhart's concept of Gelassenheit in his mystical thought.The Will in EckhartThe status of the human will has been an important psychological and theological concern for Christianity since its inception, usually contrasted with identification of (and with) the will of God, from Paul to Augustine. In both his scholastic (Latin) and vernacular (German) works, Meister Eckhart emphasizes this conformity of human will to God's will. "A good man ought so to conform his will to the divine will that he should will whatever God wills," he typically states.For God's will is necessarily good, and we must necessarily accept and be ready for everything that is God's will, Eckhart maintains. Quoting Seneca, Eckhart writes: "The good man, insofar as he is good, becomes possessed of all the properties of goodness itself."This state of will is the poverty of spirit in the Gospel (Mt. 5, 23), Eckhart says, essentially a poverty of will.If a man is to become poor in his will, he must want and desire as little as he wanted and desired when he did not exist. And in this way a man is poor who wants nothing. ... So long as a man has this as his will, that he wants to fulfill God's dearest will, he has not the poverty about which we want to talk.This necessary conformity to God's will pushes theology to new conceptualizations in Eckhart. Thus he says that if God wills that we sin or that we suffer, we should not will that we had not committed sin or had not suffered. Rather, our will must be no will at all. "The just have no will at all," he states. "What God wills is all the same to them, however great distress that may be."In the context of identifying with God's will, Eckhart almost defines virtues as external to and prior to God insofar as for the just or virtuous:The pursuit of justice is so imperative that if God were not just, they [the just] would not give a fig for God.This justice is more important than life itself. But, asks Eckhart: "What is life? God's being is my life. If my life is God's being, then God's existence must be my existence and God's is-ness [Isticheit] is my is-ness, neither less nor more."This latter sentence was among the statements held against Eckhart by the ecclesiastical authorities at Cologne. However provocative, the passage was translated into a meaning not maintained by Eckhart, who is here speaking of identity with God's being and not divinization of the human being. Nevertheless, the momentum of Eckhart's thought is clear: he intends to explore the ramifications of an absolute identification with God's will and its practical effects on diurnal life. Out of this comes releasement or Gelassenheit.Releasement as non-willingInitially, releasement for Eckhart signifies a notion of will, a not-willing, which detaches or cuts off the individual from the worldly will. While the quietism of not-willing attracted many Christian thinkers and Reform spiritual figures, the concept became a second stage of the will, called by Heidegger "deferred-willing," where the concept remained a negation. Some Reform figures embraced a notion of will that including acceptance of suffering and martyrdom, a trajectory that waned, however, with passing centuries."Deferred-willing" is a passive acquiescence or active subordination of will to that of another. In historical Christianity, this subordination is to God. But to Eckhart it was not to God, as popularly understood, as will be seen.A third stage of the will is called "covert-willing" by Heidegger. Covert-willing involves a feigned negation, a pragmatic deference for the sake of survival and the preservation of thought and expression, concealing the full expression of the will from authorities and even (psychologically) from the self. This may have been the pragmatism of some medieval mystics and thinkers couching their ideas in abstruse language or obscure analogies and images.Eckhart never clearly wrote as covert-willing, convinced of the defensibility of his writing. "I can be in error," he once declared, "but I cannot be a heretic, because the first belongs to the intellect, the second to the will."Eckhart explored the fullest sense of non-willing, the sense of either grudging or content obedience as insufficient for grasping the content of God's will. Rather, there must be cessation of self-will, what Eckhart calls an "empty spirit."An empty spirit is one that is confused by nothing, attached to nothing, has not attached its best to nay fixed way o acting, and has no concern whatever in anything for its own gain, for it is sunk deep down into God's dearest will and has forsaken its own. A man can never perform any work, however humble, without it gaining strength and power from this.Eckhart refutes the idea that releasement involves impractical external changes. Objections will be made, he says, such as,"I wish that it were so with me!" Or, "I should like to be poor," or else, "Things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or until I act one way or another." "I must go and live in a strange land or in a hermitage, or in a cloister." In fact, this is all about yourself, and nothing else at all. This is just self-will, only you do not know it or it does not seem so to you ...He goes on to advise how to begin working on the will.Make a start with yourself, and abandon yourself. Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, wherever you run to , you will find obstacles and trouble wherever it may be. People who seek peace in external things -- be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation -- however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and gives no peace.Eckhart paraphrases Gregory the Great:




The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart



A deft and profound presentation of the mysticism of Meister Eckhart (d. 1328) from a comparative perspective, Meister Eckhart: An Asian Perspective seeks to overcome static dichotomies. Throughout the book, Hee-Sung Keel outlines how the medieval German mystic helps subvert binaries between philosophy and theology, transcendence and immanence, Christianity and the great Asian religious traditions--binaries that the author identifies as the root cause for the fundamental spiritual poverty that afflicts Western thought today. Most important, the author posits that Eckhart could serve as a nucleus for the creative encounter between Buddhism and Christianity because of the great consonance between Eckhart's mystical theology and "Asian spirituality." (1) A main aim of the author is to showcase the thought and life world of Eckhart through the lens of "Asian religious traditions in general" (x). Throughout the book, he covers such central topics as God and the world, God and the soul, detachment, breakthrough, and the birth and the life of the Son of God. Originally an introduction of Eckhart's thought for a Korean audience, the book has been reworked for an English-language audience by integrating comparative material. Although the book is not primarily written for specialists in the field of Eckhart studies but aimed "to stimulate interreligious dialogue and strengthen our vision of the spiritual unity of humankind" (xii), both novices and experts in the study of mysticism and comparative theology would benefit from reading and wrestling with this book. While to the person familiar with Eckhart's own writings and with Eckhart scholarship, the book may not present much original information, the author's reading of the material is still novel with respect to the comparative context of this book. Thus, the real contribution of the book is in the comparative aspect and in highlighting resonances between Eckhart and "Asian" thought.


This dissertation attempts to respond to two related issues in Eckhart scholarship. The first is the issue of the place of person in Eckhart's thought. At certain points in his writings, it appears that the Dominican mystic subordinates all personal distinctions, human and divine, to an ultimate and indistinct nothingness, frequently characterized as the desert of the Godhead. The question thus arises of whether or not in such formulations Eckhart moves beyond the personalism of the Christian tradition. The second issue appears within the context of the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Buddhist philosophers have argued that the West has overlooked the significance of negative ontology. Frequently they point to the negative theologians within the Christian tradition, and Eckhart in particular, as expressing a view of reality closer to their own. The question here is whether Eckhart has been adequately understood by the Buddhist interpreters of the sunyata doctrine, a traditionally impersonal term, or whether his thought has been abstracted from the personal context of his tradition. Recent analyses of Eckhart's work have offered a number of valuable insights into these terms. The presence of a dialectic in the Meister's thought between the personal and the impersonal, the distinct and the indistinct, the birth of the Son in the soul and the desert of the Godhead, is one such insight offered by several scholars. The author attempts to build on this and other contributions by focussing on the place of person in the Meister's mysticism. If person can be discerned as a significant theme in the Meister's mystical theology, then students of his thought would be in a better position to respond to the issues raised above. In developing his argument, the author contends that person in Eckhart must be viewed as a dynamic rather than a static category, and that as a dynamic it is descriptive of a spiritual, transformative process which begins with the human person and culminates in divine Personhood without negating the value of one's humanity. Moreover, it is necessary to see that Eckhart devises strategies and employs particular modes of thought, all for the purpose of helping his listener/reader enter into the dynamic and achieve the goal of spiritual transformation. Finally, person must be recognized as dialectically related to the impersonal One; the personal nature of Eckhart's dialectic becomes clearer within the context of a dialogic encounter between Eckhart and Nagarjuna, the foremost Buddhist interpreter of the sunyata dialectic. 041b061a72


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