Meister Eckhart

by Philip L. Griggs | The Spiritual Athlete

A NUMBER OF MYSTERIES and surprises surround the figure of Meister Eckhart, thirteenth-century monk and mystic. One of these is the fact that although so many of his teachings have come down to us, we know very little about his life. He seems to have lived between the years 1260 and 1328. But just what the forces were which went into the making of his singular character, and how he became what some regard as the greatest teacher in Christianity since its Founder, we do not know.

When he was about fifteen years old we see him entering a Dominican monastery to study for the priesthood, and we see that in 1300 he was a popular preaching monk and author of tracts. His neatly reasoned and lofty sermons were noted more for their power and directness than for their scholastic niceties, and filled the churches with common working people whose interest in theology appears to be comparable to the modern worker’s interest in politics. He gave these in the German language instead of Latin, and is often called the first man to use this vernacular for metaphysics.
Although we have no direct knowledge of his religious experiences at any time, it is significant that when teachers in the Vedantic tradition come to study the message of Eckhart they recognize in him a Christian who must have experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, the superconscious experience of the formless, non-dual Godhead. There is certainly nothing in his life to contradict this, and much to suggest it.

He was sent on many preaching missions, given honorary degrees, and was soon made Provincial (local head) of the Order in Saxony and later also for Bohemia. He must have been at this time a tremendous worker. But now the Church which made and honored him began to disclaim him. His teachings struck some unfamiliar notes, and detractors sought w connect him with certain “wild” mystical sects which were under inquisition; a list of his “errors” was drawn up by Church authorities. In 1327 Eckhart made a brilliant public defense in the Cologne church, in which he denied any heresy or unbe­ coming conduct and offered to retract any errors proved. He failed to convince the Papal appointees, however, or perhaps he only fanned the flames of their suspicions, for a Papal bull was issued in 1329 condemning Eckhart as one deceived by the devil and deceiving others. But the good Meister never had to read his own final condemnation; death had intervened. We are told nothing of the circumstances of his death.

The influence of his teachings is to be seen in mystics who followed him – Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck, and others- but his own writings and recorded sermons lay nearly forgotten for five hundred years, until they were uncovered in the last century.

THE real problem one faces in gleaning from a field as rich as the works of Meister Eckhart is how to discard. It is all wheat, so to speak; there are virtually no tares. But in making this s lection I have had in mind three principal points of reference, and, inevitably, I have chosen what I liked best.
The first was to show that Meister Eckhart is no medieval antique but very much a man of our own time.

In fact, it may even be fairly said that he was much ahead of his rime. Perhaps Oi1ly now are we able properly to understand and appreciate Eckhart’s particular facet of the Perennial Philosophy.
Secondly, this master has long been considered and reported as a jnani, one who emphasizes the path of reason. This may indeed have been his emphasis, but it should be quite evident from what follows that he was a well-rounded spiritual personality, equally at home in the paths of action and devotion also and well qualified thereby for his monastic position as spiritual director of hundreds of monks and nuns.
Finally, I have hoped to show how far Meister Eckhart transcended the limitations of his Christian tradition. Eckhart climbed about as far out on the limb of the Christian Church and its doctrine as a man could, but he was too simple and pious to cut clean through that limb by his own choice. He outgrew the dogma which nurtured him, but so gracefully that he was hardly conscious of having done so. Of course, his near excommunication is only one dismal landmark in the Christian Church’s general tendency to discourage mysticism, but it was a fateful and perhaps fatal decision for the Church. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if, instead of being condemned and set aside, Eckhart’s ideas and experiences had been allowed to flourish throughout the Christian world.
At any rate, one familiar with the Vedantic tradition will find in this discourse many familiar phrases and perspectives which he may never have expected to see in the West. See how Meister Eckhart urges the practice of neti-neti, “not this, not that.” Hear him as he describes what Hindus clearly know as samadhi, and assures us that unitive knowledge of Godhead can be had here and now. How reminiscent of Swami Vivekananda are his stirring notes of nondualism and the complete renunciation of ego! Note his understanding of the mother-principle in the Deity. His doctrine of the Word which is eternally being spoken in us is the heart of his cosmology and reminds us of the Indian emphasis on the Divine Name. Again, Eckhart knows that religion is far beyond mere dharma – his word is virtue – and assures us that it should be fun, not long-faced. Many such parallels the reader will see: his description of the unconventional behavior of saints, his matter-of-fact attitude toward heaven and hell, and how the perfect knower, “even if there were” many Persons in the Godhead, “would see them all as One.”

Here then is proof that in the highest religious experience time, culture, and geography play no part, that all men who know God- who have become God­ speak the same language, the language of the spirit.
All the teachings here have been drawn from record­ ed and translated material attributed to Eckhart. Only the style of speech has been somewhat modernized, and the teachings have been arranged in the form of a dialogue. The conversations are conceived as having taken place sometime between the years 1311 and 1320, between the Meister and one or another of his many monks.

Q. How can I find God?
A. No man ever found God; He gave Himself away.

Q. Ah! Then let me put it another way. What prevents us from knowing God?

A. Three things. The first is time; the second is body; and the third, multiplicity. Remember, if you seek anything of yours, you will never find God, for you are not seeking God merely. You are seeking for something with God, making a candle of God, as it were, with which to find something, and then, having found it, throwing the candle away. Creatures have no real being, for their being consists in the presence of God. If God turned away for an instant they would all perish, and having all creatures without God is no more than having one fly without God. God must give me Himself, which He can do only when I have renounced myself wholly; only then shall I know God.

Q. Is this knowledge like our present knowledge?
A. No. Do not foolishly imagine that your reason can grow to the knowledge of God; no natural light can bring it about that God shall shine divinely in you; it must be utterly extinguished and go out of itself altogether, then God can shine with His light, bringing back with Him everything left behind, and a thousand­ fold more, besides the new form containing it all. To know God God-fashion, your knowledge must change into downright un-knowing, to a forgetting of yourself and every creature.

Q. But, sir, if God is beyond knowledge, and therefore unknowable, and we can know nothing of the unuttered Godhead, what then shall we do?
A. You must lose your your-ness and dissolve in His His-ness. You see, God is said to be unknown because no creature knows Him as He knows Himself. Nothing we can say of God is really true. When I say “man,” I have in my mind human nature. When I say “gray,” I have in mind the grayness of gray. When I say “God,” I have in my mind not any of His qualities. God is such that we apprehend Him better by negation than affirmation. The more we can impute to Him not-likeness, the nearer we get to understanding Him. Thus God and I are not like, but one in knowing.

Q. One in knowing? Then just what is the relationship between God and the soul?
A. My child, God and the soul are so near together that there is really no distinction between them. Nothing but God finds its way into God, and once the soul is in God, she is God, borne into God on His eternal Word. Soul is in the middle, between God and creature. If she prefers the lower powers of her five senses to her higher ones whence comes her knowledge of spiritual things, then she grows ignoble and base. The worldly pleasures of the soul God has no stomach for, and when she realizes this, she discards the joys in which God has no share. Therefore, for God and the soul to be one, the soul has to lose her own life and nature. They are one as regards what is left. But for them to be one, one must lose its identity and the Other must keep its identity; then they are the same.

Q. ls there a distinction between “soul” and “spirit”?
A. In her higher powers the soul is spirit, and in her lower, soul; and between soul and spirit is the bond of one common being. You must know how the philosophers say the soul is double-faced– her upper face gazes at God all the time and her lower face looks somewhat down, informing the senses; and the upper face, which is the summit of the soul, is in eternity and has nothing to do with time; it knows nothing of time or of body. There is that something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable. It is flowing from the Spirit and is altogether spiritual, and in this power God comes out in the full flower of His joy and glory, as He is in Himself. Such intense delight, such supreme exaltation as no mind can conceive nor tongue express. If a man catches one fleeting glance of the joy and bliss therein, it would make it up to him for having to suffer everything he could ever suffer.

Q. You say the Spirit knows not of the body. But what then is the relationship between soul and body?
A. The soul has no natural concern with the things of this world any more than the ear has with color or the eye has with song. Our natural philosophers teach that the body is rather in the soul than the soul in the body. Even as the cask contains the wine and not the wine the cask, so does the soul keep the body in her, rather than the body the soul.

Q. A very old question, sir: is God one, or is He many?
A. Look you, the narrowest of the powers of my soul is more than heaven-wide, to say nothing of the intellect, wherein there is measureless space, wherein I am as near a place a thousand miles away as the spot I am standing on this moment. Theologians teach that the angel hosts are countless. But to one who sees distinctions as something different from multiplicity, to him, I say, a hundred is as one. If there were a hundred Persons in the Godhead, he would still perceive them as one God.

Q. If God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, how does that help me?
A. God not only became man; He assumed human nature. I make bold to say that every good thing possessed by the saints, and by Mary, and Christ in His human nature, is also mine in this same nature.

Q. But if I already possess in this nature all that Christ does in his humanity, why do we set Christ so high and honor him as our Lord and God?
A. Because he was a messenger from God to us, bringing us our own happiness. The happiness Christ brought us was our own. But I will give you a harder saying; to subsist immediately in this pure nature a man must be so wholly dead to person that he wills as well to one across the seas whom he has never seen, as to his own present and familiar friend. So long as you still wish better to yourself than to one whom you have never seen, you are beside the mark, nor have you even for an instant seen into this simple ground. Again, the eternal Word did not take upon itself this man or that; it took upon itself one indivisible free nature, human nature, bare and formless, for the indivisible form of manhood is wholly without form. Here it is just as true to say that man became God as that God became man. You are, with Christ, the Son of the eternal Father, because you have the same nature which was there made God.

Q. You have spoken often to us of this Word, the Logos, which is being born eternally in the ground of our soul; but how are we to hear this Word, Meister Eckhart?

A. Actually, God never spoke but one word, and that is still unspoken. But He begets in the soul His child, His Word, and the soul conceiving it passes it on to its powers in varied guise – now as desire, now as good intent, now as charity; it is His, not yours at all. He prays in us, not we ourselves. So lay no claim to anything. Let go yourself and let God act for you and in you as He pleases. This work is His, this birth is His, and all you are, to boot. God installs Himself in your nature and powers, when self-bereft of all belongings, you take to the desert, as it is written: “A voice crying in the wilderness.” Let this eternal voice cry on in you at its sweet will, and do you be a desert in respect to self and creatures.

Q. How is it that God can flow out, becoming all the creatures He has begotten, and still He remains within Himself?
A. I can only give you an analogy: It is like what I am now saying; it springs up within me, then I pause in the idea, and thirdly I speak it out, and all of you receive it; but really it is in me all the time.

Q. Sir, why is it said that God is light, considering that He is incomprehensible?
A. Ah! Just because He is incomprehensible, therefore He is light! Don’t you see that God’s incomprehensibility comes from His being unending? But His unendingness is due to His being simple; simplicity is the same as purity, and purity is light. So, it is well said that God is light, and when the divine light is flooding the soul, soul becomes merged into God like a light into light. Anything approaching this light, the light consumes and turns to its own divine nature.

Q. One book says that God is beyond virtue; this is difficult to understand.
A. It means that the vision of God transcends virtues. Virtue is in the middle, between vice and perfection, and the fruit of virtue- the end and object of virtue – will never be obtained until the soul is caught up above the virtues. Be sure that as long as a man holds fast as slave to virtue, he will never taste the fruit of virtue, which is to see the God of Gods. Be sure of it, mere virtue has never seen this sight.

Q. Surely this does not mean that we are to abandon virtue?
A. No, we are to practice virtue, not to possess it. Not by fasting and good works can we gauge our progress in the spiritual life, but a sure sign of growth is a waxing love for the eternal and a waning interest in temporal things. The man who owns a hundred thousand dollars and gives them all in the name of God to found a monastery is doing a good work. Yet I say it would be better for him to despise and empty himself for love of God.

Q. In your sermon last Sunday you said that we cannot say what God is; why can we not say that He is being?
A. I hold that it is as wrong for me to say that God is being as to say the sun is black or white. God is neither this nor that. But when I say God is not being, is superior to being, I do not thereby deny Him being: I dignify and exalt it in Him. But, being is God’s idiosyncrasy. Our whole life ought to be being, for so far as it is, it is in God. The most trivial thing perceived in God, a flower for example, as seen in God, would be a thing more perfect than the universe.

Q. Sir, what happens when we attain to perfect union with God?
A. When the soul, being kissed by God, is in absolute perfection and bliss, then at last, she knows the embrace of unity, then at the touch of God she is made uncreaturely; then with God’s motion, the soul is as noble as God is Himself. As the drop becomes the ocean, not the ocean the drop, so the soul imbibing God turns into God, not God into the soul. There the soul loses its name, its power and its activity, but not its existence. The soul abides in God as God abides in Himself.

Q. What happens at the moment of this union? What is it like?
A. Ah, my child, if only you could be suddenly altogether unaware of things; yes, could you but pass into oblivion of your own existence as St. Paul did when he said: “Whether in the body I know not, or out of it I know not, God knoweth.” Here the spirit had so entirely absorbed the faculties that it had forgotten the body; memory n0 longer functioned, nor understanding, nor the senses; vital warmth and energy were arrested so that the body did not fail throughout the three days during which he neither ate nor drank.

Q. Is this union with the personal God, or with Godhead?
A. Look you, Christ says: “I have been man for you, and if you do not become God for me, you wrong me.” God became man that we might become God. God in His God-nature lay hidden in human nature so that we saw nothing but man. And so, this soul shall hide itself in God’s nature until we can see nothing but God; not putting on a Person as Christ did, but wholly immersed in the divine nature. God is the nature of each nature; He is all nature’s nature, undivided.

Q. Can this state of union be attained in this very life, Meister Eckhart?
A. I have sometimes said that man sees God in this life in the same perfection, and is happy in the same perfect way as in the life to come. Many people are astonished to hear this. Yet this life is attainable while a man still eats and drinks. When a man has reached this point we may well say, this man is God and man. All Christ has by nature he has won by grace. His body is filled with the noble nature as the soul, which it receives from God with divine light; thus we may indeed say, Behold, a man divine!
It may well be that you who search after God will come across such perfected men as we have been speaking of. They are away from home, my child, and no one rightly knows them except those in whom the same light shines. Believe me, if I knew one such, and I had a house full of gold and precious stones, I would give the whole of it for a single fowl for him to eat. If all the things God ever made were mine, I would at once give them all for the enjoyment of that man, for they are all his. God in the fullness of His power is his, too, and if there stood before me all the hungry who are in imperfection, I would not withhold from that man’s need a single morsel of the fowl, even if it would feed that multitude. You must remember that in the case of an imperfect man, anything he eats or drinks will drag him down and make him prone to sin. But not the perfect man: what he eats and drinks he raises up in Christ to the Father. Keep a sharp lookout, I warn you, for these men are difficult to tell. For instance, if they should need it, while others are fasting they will be eating; while others keep watch, they will be sleeping; while other folk are praying, they will hold their peace. In short, the things they say and do seem unaccountable, for what God makes obvious to those who are on the way, is foreign to those who have arrived. These have no wants whatever; they are rich in possessing a city of their own. These people do the most valuable work of all, which is within. Blessed is the land wherein one of them lives; in one instant they will do more lasting good than all the outward actions ever done. See that you withhold nothing of theirs. May we all recognize these people, and loving God in them, may we possess, with them, the city they have won.

Q. By what signs may we recognize such a perfect man?
A. There are five: he never complains; he never makes excuses – when accused he leaves the facts to vindicate him; there is nothing he wants in earth or heaven but what God wills; he is not moved by time; and he is never rejoiced: he is joy itself. Perhaps there are six more signs, too. Such people are dead to flesh and blood and all natural appetites. Secondly, the pleasures of the body are like sour breath to them. They are forever listening to God’s voice within them. They are not perturbed by the uncertainties of things, neither vexed nor depressed. Again, they turn everything to good account, so nothing can corrupt them. As St. Paul says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” And they have no desire to compete with anyone; they live in the world as if there were no one but themselves and God.

Q. Are these then what is known as free souls, or free men?
A. Right you are. Holy Scripture cries aloud for freedom from self. Self-free is self-controlled and self-controlled is self-possessed and self-possession is God-possession and possession of everything God ever made. This is known as self-mastery. He who for one instant wholly resigns self, unshaken and motionless in himself- that man is free.

Q. Do you mean to say that a man can, in this body, reach a state where he is incapable of sin?
A. Now on this point, the seers debate; the best authorities say, “Yes,” alluding to souls so perfectly disciplined, outwardly and inwardly, that they have no propensity to sin.


Q. Can a man fall, so to speak, from the state of divine union, back into sin?
A. I believe – no I am sure – that the man who is established in this can in no way at any time be separated from God. I hold that he can in no way lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I hold that he cannot willingly commit, nor yet consent to, even a lesser sin, whether in himself or in another. So strongly is he drawn to this way, so much is he habituated to it, that he could never tum to any other; to this way all his senses and powers are directed.

Q. Some say, “To do God’s will is the highest state.” Do you think there is a higher?
A. There is, and I have just been speaking of it. Because you see, in the abstract Godhead there is no activity. The soul is not perfectly beatified until it casts itself into the desolate Deity where neither act nor form exists, and there, merged in the void, loses itself: as self it perishes, but is alive in God.

Q. Sir, there is much debate: does this power to realize God lie in God or in the soul?
A. I say the power lies in the soul; or better, the energy is in God, and the capacity is in the soul. If I were wholly what I am I should be God; there would be for me neither time nor place nor change. There is nothing so easy to me, so possible, as to be God, to remain what I really am.

Q. How can we please God? In what is He made most happy?
A. In self-perception. All God wants of us is for us to go out of ourselves with respect to our creatureliness, and let God be God in us.

Q. What is needful to attain love of God?
A. Four things: first, a real dispassion toward creatures; second, the right sort of active life; third, the right sort of contemplative life; fourth, an aspiring heart.

Q. Why don’t we taste God’s love?
A. Because our tongue is furred with the slime of created things, and does not possess the salt of divine affection. If we had Godly love we should savour God and all the works of God, and should receive all things from Him, and be doing the same work as He does.

Q. You speak of doing His work; why is it the saints seem so anxious to serve only the Lord at every moment? What is the great incentive?
A. You see, it is because they have tasted God, and it would be strange indeed if, once tasting and enjoying God, the soul could stomach anything else! As one saint says, once the soul tries God, she finds the things that are not God repugnant and distasteful.

Q. What is God’s love for us like?
A. Will you understand if I tell you it is an arrow, sped without anger, and received without pain? You do not need to seek Him here or there. He is no further off than at the door of your heart; there He stands lingering, awaiting whoever is ready to open and let Him in. You do not need to call to Him far off. He waits much more impatiently than you for you to open to Him. He longs for you a thousand times more urgently than you for Him.

Q. What does Christ mean by being “poor in spirit”?
A. He means those who will nothing, know nothing, have nothing. Being poor in spirit means being poor of all particular knowledge. As long as it can be said of a man that it is his will to do the will of God, he has not this poverty; he should be empty of will and desire. A man should be as free of his own knowledge as he was when he did not exist, free even of the knowledge of God’s work in him. Finally a man should be so poor that he has no place in him for God to work. To preserve place is to preserve distinction. Now I say more: I pray God to rid me even of God! How can I say such a thing? Because conditionless being is above God and above distinction; it was in this that I became myself, herein I willed myself and knew myself to make this man I call “I,” and in this sense I am my own cause. For this am I born, and as to my birth which is eternal, I can never die. In my eternal mode of birth I have always been, am now, and shall remain eternally. What I am in time shall die, for it is of the day and passes with the day. In my birth all things were born, and I was the cause of mine own self and all things, and had I willed it, I would never have been, nor any thing, and if I had not been, then God would not have been either.
You do not have to understand this. I see you have not followed me. Never mind; until you are like this truth you will not see my argument, for it is the naked truth straight from the heart of God.

Q. But how can we possibly be “perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect”?
A. You are thinking of an accumulation of virtuous qualities. But, my child, perfection means fulfillment. Imperfection means time. When time drops from you, your time is fulfilled. Time ends whe11 there is no before and after, when you see at a glance all that has ever happened and will ever happen. In this immediate vision you will possess all things. This is perfection of time, and there you are perfect, and are truly the only son of God, and Christ.

Q. What do you understand by “the kingdom of God,” of which Christ speaks so often?
A. God’s kingdom means the soul being full of God, and nothing of itself. God’s kingdom is Himself, and His perfect nature. There, there is neither time nor space, before nor after, but everything present is one new, fresh-springing now where millenniums last no longer than the twinkling of an eye. There every spirit rejoices in the joy of every other, relishing it each in his degree; every inhabitant of the kingdom of heaven is, knows, and loves in God, in his own self, and in every other spirit. Again, as you know, Christ has said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

Q. Why did our Lord say, “I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me”?
A. I believe He meant that when He dawns upon our heart and understanding, He gathers us up into Himself. In this sense all creatures are one man, and that man is God. In this sense man is all things. For He has the nature of all beings, and souls joined to Christ are in this sense one man with Him. And like Christ, loving yourself you love all men as yourself. So long as you love anyone less than your own self, you do not truly love yourself! Love all men in one man who is both God and man.

Q. Why do you think Christ said to his disciples:
“It is expedient for you that I go away”?
A. That is not hard to understand. His disciples loved Him as a man and a mortal, so that in spite of His being the most perfect good God ever sent, yet He was a hindrance to His followers by His bodily presence. You have forgotten the latter half of the saying: “For unless I go away, you will not receive the Holy Spirit.” Unless the soul is raised to a higher power, from physical to spiritual things, the Holy Spirit cannot enter it to do Its work.

Q. Meister Eckhart, by what name should we call on God?
A. God is called by many names in scripture, is He not? David said, “The Lord is His name.” You should remember that words have enormous power. They have got it from the emanation of the eternal Word. All beings are trying to speak God in their actions; they all speak Him as well as they can; but they cannot really pronounce Him. Nevertheless, all are trying to utter God, who still remains unspoken. For God transcends name, transcends nature. We can find no name to give to God, but we are permitted to use the names His saints have called Him by, those whose hearts were flooded with His divine light. We ought to say: “Lord, in those very names which Thou didst instill into the hearts of saints, suffusing them with Thy light, we praise Thee and adore Thee.” And again, we should know that in giving God no name at all we also praise and honor Him.

Q. When I think of all the saints I always think of my own impurities. What is the way to be rid of them, to become pure?
A. Pray to Him to purify you, to empty you. If you are empty, God of His very nature is obliged to fill you. The way to be pure is by steadfast longing for the one good-God. How to acquire this longing? By self-denial and aversion to creatures; self-knowledge is the way, for created things are all naught, they come to naught with lamentation and bitterness. So do not concern yourself with worldly trivialities; we are not made for trivial things, and the glory of the world is only a travesty of truth, a heresy of happiness.

Q. The prophets of old spoke much about the fear of God. Do you think there is any place for fear in the spiritual life?
A. Only the fear of losing God, of forgetting Him. Man should not be afraid of God. Fear is only the veriest beginning of wisdom. God loves man immeasurably, and man should love God the same. Is it not a wonder that man can be without Him without whom he cannot be? And if a man truly trusts God, he will leave himself in His hands- no fear.

Q. Who can say he really trusts God?
A. True, few there be. Only he can say he trusts God who keeps overnight not so much as a pennyworth of possessions.

Q. Are you speaking literally, sir? Is this what renunciation really means?
A. In truth, my boy, renunciation of self is true renunciation. The other day a man came to me and told me he had given a quantity of land and goods, to save his soul. Alas, I thought, how paltry, how inadequate, the things you have resigned. It is blindness and folly so long as you care a jot for what you have renounced. Renounce yourself!

Q. Which would you call the greatest virtue?
A. The masters praise humility more than most other virtues, but I rank detachment before any meek­ ness, and for several reasons. Meekness can be had with­ out detachment, but complete detachment is impossible without humility. Also, humility means to abase oneself before all creatures, and in doing this one pay heed to creatures, one goes out to them. But detachment abides in itself. Perfect detachment is without regard, without either lowliness or loftiness to creatures; it has a mind to be master of itself, loving none and hating none; the only thing it wants to be is same.

Q. I think the practice of detachment is most difficult, because the unruly senses do not obey the dictates of the mind. How can the passions be made to obey?
A. When the mind is fixed on God, and stays there, the senses become obedient to the mind. As you would hang a needle to a magnet and then another needle on to that, until there are four needles, say, hanging from the magnet, so long as the first needle stays clinging to that; and when the leader drops, the rest will go as well. Just so, while the mind keeps fixed on God, the senses are subservient to it. but if the mind should wander off from God the passions will e cape and be unruly.

Q. Sir, what is the “dryness” of which so many spiritual seekers complain?
A. When the mind is exerting itself in real earnest, God interests Himself in the mind and its work, and then the soul sees and experiences God. But since the uninterrupted vision and passion of God is intolerable to the soul in this body, therefore God withdraws from the soul from time to time, as it is said, “A little while ye see Me, and again a little while and ye see Me not.” Our Lord hides Himself sometimes, for if the soul were conscious of God immediately, uninterruptedly, she would not be able to take care of the body. Some people complain much of having no interior life, no devotion, no sweetness, nor any such consolation. I say these folk are unrighteous as yet, and though they suffer, it is not the best, for they seek not God alone.

Q. We may know all this, intellectually, yet when distractions arise, in prayer and remembrance, it seems at times almost too much for us!
A. If we fail to see God, my children, that is due as much to our feeble desire, as to the distraction from creatures. Aim high, be high! To see God requires high aspiration. Ardent desire and abject humility together work wonders. I vow God is omnipotent, but He is impotent to thwart the humble soul which has towering aspiration. I say, and I would stake my life upon it, that by will a man may pierce a wall of steel; and we read about St. Peter that on catching sight of Jesus, he walked upon the water in his eagerness to meet Him.

Q. Some say, Meister Eckhart, that salvation comes by knowledge; others say, by works. Which is it?
A. It is by neither. For the soul is unable to encompass God by any means. Did I tell you, no man ever found God-He gave Himself away?

Q. You did, sir; but this implies dependence on grace, and what if God does not choose to be gracious?
A. Ah, but the higher is ever more ready to pour out its power into the lower, than the lower is ready to receive it. You see this is nature. So God is vastly quicker to pour out His grace than man is to take it in. Do you know, God likes forgiving big sins more than small ones? The bigger they are the gladder He is and the quicker to forgive them. It is the same with grace, and virtues, the greater they are the greater His pleasure in giving them; giving of largess is His nature.
None of you should think it difficult to arrive at this detachment from all things, however hard it may seem at first. Having once got into it, you will find no life more easy, more delightful. God is so very careful to be always with a man, to guide him to Himself in case he takes the wrong way. No man ever wanted anything so much as God wants to make the soul aware of Him. God is ever ready, but we are so unready. God is near to us, but we are far from Him.

Q. Will you tell us which you think is to be preferred, the life of action, or the contemplative life?
A. Precious few succeed in living the contemplative life at all here upon earth. Many begin, but fail to consummate it. It is because they have not rightly lived the life of Martha. As the eagle spurns its young that cannot gaze at the sun, even so it fares with the spiritual child. He who would build high must lay firm and strong foundations. The true foundation is the very way and pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Perfect rest is, of course, absolute freedom from motion, and is our goal. St. Bernard says, “The most subtle temptation that can beset us is to occupy ourselves too much in outward works.” Our least interior act is higher and nobler than our greatest outward one, and yet our loftiest interior act halts in God’s unveiled presence in the soul.

Q. So then we must all be active for some time to come. But how can we know right action from wrong?
A. If any man acts in such a way that his deeds are able to degrade him, be sure he is not acting according to God’s law. That is one test. Works done outside the kingdom of God are dead works, but works done in the kingdom are living works. If you want to live and have your work live, you must be first dead to all things, and reduced to nobody. So enter into your own Ground and work; acts done by you there are all living. But there is another aspect to this question. Actually, a man should orient his will and all his works to God, and having only Him in view go forward unafraid, not thinking, “Am I right or am I wrong?”
One who worked out all the chances before starting his first fight would never fight at all. And, if going to some place we must think how to set the first foot down, we shall never get there. A man should not dragoon himself: “This you must do at any cost.” That would be wrong for thus he lends importance to himself. Follow your principles and keep straight on; you will come to the right place. That is the way.

Q. Then we need not always know what is best for us?
A. No, my child; whatever it is that lights devotion
in your heart and knits you closest to God, that is the best thing for you in every case.

Q. Does the time come, then, when we feel it is the Lord alone who works in us, and not we ourselves?
A. Yes, this God does when He has given us Himself first. Any man who would attain to this must stay in the presence of God the whole time and refuse to let God be put out of his mind by fortune or misfortune or by any creature whatsoever.

Q. Although I try to practice the presence of God in every place, still I find it so much easier in the church and other quiet places, than in busy ones.
A. True. One may go to the fields and say one’s prayers and be conscious of God, or go to church and be conscious of God; if we are more conscious of Him by being in a quiet place, however, that comes of our own imperfection after all. For God is in all things and all places and just as ready to give Himself so far as He can; and that man knows God aright who always finds Him the same.

Q. Sir, it is a very ticklish question, whether God is also the material cause of the universe. What do you say?
A. God is not only the Father, but He is the Mother of all things, to boot. He is the Father, for He is the efficient cause of all things as Creator. He is the Mother of all things as well, for when creatures have got their being from Him, He still stays with them to keep them in being. When a house is in being, its builder can depart because it is not the builder alone that makes the house; the materials of it he draws from nature. But God provides a creature with the whole of what it is, with form as well as matter, so He is bound to stay with it or it will promptly drop out of existence.

Q. And what of hell, Meister Eckhart?
A. Theologians speak of hell; I will tell you what hell is. It is merely a state. What you have here is what you have there. This is hell, if you do not see God and His friends. And it is much the same with heaven, for you should know that many a man who goes to heaven no more enjoys the light of God’s countenance than sunshine in forest gloom.

Q. Can what we do in this life give joy to the saints who are living in eternity?
A. Yes, surely. Marvelous, incredible to tell, every saint rejoices in each virtuous deed, each good desire or intention; their joy no tongue is able to express nor any heart conceive. So how much greater must God’s joy be!

Q. Some weeks ago your sermon was on the will and whether it is free or not; but I confess I was unable to understand it. Will you elucidate this point?
A. I can put it more simply. Teachers declare that the will is free in the sense that none can bind it excepting only God. God does not bind the will, He sets it free- free to choose nothing but God Himself, and this is real freedom. Some people say, if I have God and the love of God then I am at liberty to follow my own will. They are mistaken. So long as you are capable of anything against the will of God and His law, you have no love of God, though you try to make the world think that you do. No one loves virtue without being virtue.

Q. How do sorrow and depression arise, and how can I overcome them?
A. All sorrow comes from love of something of which I «m deprived. If I mind the loss of external things, it is a sure sign that I am fond of them, and really love sorrow and discomfort. Is it any wonder that I am unhappy when I like discomfort and unhappiness? I turn toward creatures, whence there comes naturally all dis­ comfort, and turn my back on that which is the natural source of happiness; no wonder I am woebegone and wretched! The fact is, it is quite impossible for God or anyone to bring true solace to a man who looks for it in creatures. But he who loves only God in all beings and all beings in God only, that man finds real and true and equal comfort everywhere. We ought to love things not a whit more than just as much as we love God in them.
People often say to me: “Pray for me.” And I think to myself, “Why ever do you go out? Why not stop at home and mine your own treasure? For indeed the whole truth is native in you.”

Q. The saints suffered all manner of horrible things. When I read of them, I cannot help feeling that their suffering was somehow different, as you have implied.
A. Very true. Our Lord’s friends do not suffer at all. The least suspicion of God-consciousness and sufferings are all forgot. This may happen while the soul is still in this body; while yet in the body a soul may reach oblivion of all its travail, not to remember it again.

Q. Sir, I have read nearly all the books in our library on prayer, but they seem to give me only hints. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is the practice of pure Being and glorying therein. Never pray for any mortal thing, my children. If you must pray for anything at all, pray for God’s will and nothing else, for in that you have found everything. God is one, and anything extra that is sought for, or found, is not God but a mere fraction.

Q. What, then, is the prayer of the heart that has found this true detachment?
A. Detachment and emptiness cannot pray at all. The heart detached has no desire for anything, nor has it anything to be saved from. Its only prayer consists in being of one form with God. At the height of its detachment the soul is ignorant with knowing, loveless with loving, dark with enlightenment.

Q. You do not lay any great value on penances, then, in the spiritual life?
A. As I have said, it is not by fasting and good works that we can gauge our progress in the virtuous life. Penitential practices were instituted for a special object. Fasting, watching, praying, kneeling, scourging, hair-shirts, hard beds, or whatever it may be, were all invented because body and flesh stand ever opposed to spirit. The spirit is not at home here, where the body is. So to help the spirit in its distress and put a bridle upon the flesh, these practices are resorted to. But to conquer and curb the flesh it is a thousand times better to put on the bridle of love. Love is like the fisherman’s hook. Once the fish takes it, it is done for – the fisherman is certain of his catch. God lies in wait for us with this hook above all. He who has found the way of love will seek no other. He who hangs on this hook is so fast caught that foot and hand, mouth, eyes and heart, and all that is man’s is bound to be God’s.
Whoever is caught in this net, whoever walks in this way, whatever he does is done through love. Such a person’s most trivial action is more profitable to himself and to others than the cumulative works of other men. He rests more usefully than others labor. Therefore, await this hook, so you may be happily caught- and the more surely caught 5,0 much the more surely freed.
That we may be thus caught and freed, help us,
0 Thou who art Love Itself.

by Philip L. Griggs

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SARADA DEVI was born in the small village of Jayrambati in Bengal, India in December, 1853. She was the oldest of seven children in a large family. She said of her own parents, “My father was very orthodox and would not accept gifts from other people.

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It is both inspiring and refreshing to confront in religious writings a simple, unaffected faith in God. All too often our tendency is to weigh down religion with a cloak of learning,forgetting that saints are rarely doctors of theology. If, indeed, the ultimate nature of Truth is unity, then complexity and diversity are of the nature of the world, not spirit.

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EVEN A CURSORY study of the religions of the world will reveal that among them there exist certain differences in dogma, ritual, and creed. But looking further, we discover a connecting unity, a common thread of truth, running through all faiths.

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EVERY SPIRITUAL ASPIRANT comes to know the saints as his best friends. In his pain, their words bring him loving comfort. In his joy, they carry him upward on the wings of their ecstatic songs. He grows avid for saints. And when he has exhausted the words of all the saints of the West, he is drawn inevitably to that inexhaustible mine of saints, India.

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THOMAS HAMMERKEN, born in 1380 at Kempen, Germany, lived his long life, from age twelve to age ninety-one, in a monastery. It was there, isolated from the business of the world, that Thomas grew in wisdom and spirit – exploding once and for all the notion that man must perform actions in the world in order to live a full and successful life.

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THE QUEST FOR solitude, whether it be for the space of an hour or a lifetime, has been a part of nearly every­ one’s experience. And although few are drawn to it as a permanent way of life, there has been a sufficient number to attract the interest of the historian as well as the serious student of religion.

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ONE OF THE deep-rooted Hindu ideas most alien to Western minds is the idea of worshipping God as Mother, worship known as Shakti, whose logic, nevertheless, is inescapable. For it is based on the following dualistic principal: Brahman is impersonal, inactive; Divine Mother is creative, sustaining, and destructive. God has to be beyond change and activity.

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THE ORIGINAL ATTITUDE of the American Indian toward the Eternal, the “Great Mystery” that surrounds and embraces us, was as simple as it was exalted. To him it was the supreme conception, bringing with it the fullest measure of joy and satisfaction possible in this life.

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ONE OF THE greatest bhaktas (lovers of God) the Christian faith has ever known was that luminous Spanish mystic of the sixteenth century, St. John of the Cross. He was first and always a lover, and God his Beloved. But these are pale words. He was a living ember blown upon by the breath of God, an ember glowing ever brighter on account of that breath.

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IT is A PLEASANT legend. Lao Tan, affectionately nicknamed Laotse, the “Old Boy”, full of years and wisdom and service to his Emperor, was leaving by water buffalo for the far mountains to spend the remainder of his life in contemplation. At the gate to the Pass of Han-Ku, he was stopped by the gatekeeper, Yin Hsi, himself a philosopher, who engaged him in conversation and persuaded him finally to pause long enough to write down the essence of his lifetime of thinking.

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The spiritual life of Henry D. Thoureau

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