Meister Eckhart: Why Bother Seeking Enlightenment?

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The name Meister Eckhart, at least if you’re a philosophy nerd like me, comes up with some frequency.  Realizing that Eckhart is usually grouped with the medieval scholastic philosophers of Europe, I kept putting-off reading him since I’ve always found the arguments that those guys made –about the nature of God and Eternity and such–  not only boring but, ultimately, full of what we used to cover over with sawdust in my grandfather’s OPEC (“Outlying Private Eco-friendly Chambers.)”

But I knew that one day the Meister must be wrestled with– especially after reading Swedenborg recently, and hearing that Swedenborg  was greatly influenced by Eckhart.  So I checked-out C.F. Kelley’s Meister Eckhart On Divine Knowledge the other day, figuring I could use it as my intro into Eckhart’s philosophy and see if I was left hungry for more.  And surprisingly, I found that I wouldn’t mind delving a little deeper into Eckhart’s thought… just no time real soon.  A second serving of Eckhart probably won’t make the List Of Three Hundred.

Already two hundred words into this post and saying not-much-of-anything about Eckhart’s thinking, I’ll just today write quickly about why Eckhart thinks we should even bother seeking enlightenment.

Eckhart believes that Man’s ignorance condemns him to a miserable state:  “He is disturbed and terrified by the appearance of the world as an independent reality and the incomparable importance of himself.”

And yet, Man, consumed as he is with consuming, lives most moments ignorant of his own ignorance, not even thinking to ask the deep questions, let alone giving thought to their answers.  Says Eckhart, “Why do you eat?  Why do you sleep?  In order to live.  Why do you wish wealth and honor?  You well know.  Why do you live?  For the sake of living.  And yet, you do not know why you live.”

Eckhart entertains no doubt that the path of wisdom leads to God.  Thus, for Eckhart, enlightenment is, and can only be, a religious experience.

Eckhart also believes that we have a insatiable will to know, and that our souls crave a knowledge deeper than the merely practical application of facts in our never-ending pursuit of more comfort and ease.

Many of us seek information in a superficial manner and call it wisdom.  But this is not how one should approach the contemplation of God.

Eckhart actually makes a joke about this (you don’t get many yucks reading the scholastics!), saying that some people want to love God “as they love their cow– for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them.”  

But we must break out of this what’s-in-it-for-me mode of thinking.  As Eckhart says, “the shell must be broken if what is inside is to come out.”  

What holds us back from breaking through the shell of our ignorance is our own individuality, our Ego.  We fill-up our lives with desires for the trivial and the temporary instead of seeking joy in the discovery of eternal principles.  The “root of all fallacy” according to Eckhart, is to value secondary things as if they were primary.  As Kelley puts it, the individual Self ignores “Isness” and instead focuses on “Having.”

God wants you “to go out of yourself and all individuality,” says Eckhart, “and let God be God within,” contending that “The most insignificant individual structure that takes form in you is as big as God.  How is that?  It completely obstructs God.” 

Eckhart points-out that we may think death is bad (okay, I admit it; I do)– but death is merely the separation of the soul from the body.  Far worse is the separation of the soul from God.

Eckhart states that “there are as many ways of understanding as there are human knowers.”  Nevertheless, he feels that the surest path to Enlightenment involves the freeing of ourselves from the delusions covering the eyes of the Ego like a blindfold.

We may think we live “Christian” lives because of our church-going or our charitable works, but good works are not enough to give us a true relationship with God.  “Action without contemplation in God is meaningless,” says Eckhart.

People throughout history have misdirected their energies by thinking that if only they could correct this social problem or that political injustice, then they would be happy; but in truth, what is needed for happiness is a deeper relationship with God.  The rest will flow-out naturally from that.  But this must be more than just finding and “gazing at” God; it must be a “participation in” God.  And a fuller participation in God is equivalent to a fuller participation in Being.  

So this will be our journey over the next few posts:  climbing toward knowledge and understanding in an effort to cast off delusion and participate more fully, not only in our own Being, but in God, Himself.

Living the thoughtful life is perhaps not the path of last of resistance and will require some effort.  As Eckhart said:

“Merely living is one thing.  Learning how to live rationally is quite another.”

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