Eckhart von Hocheim, most commonly known as Meister Eckahart, was a thirteenth century Christian theologian, mystic and philosopher. Eckhart was born in (what is now known as) the German the village of Tambach in what is estimated to be between 1250 and 1260. Little is known about his early childhood life regarding his upbringing and his family. Around the age of 18, Eckhart joined the Dominicans in the town of Erfurt, and later went on to study at Cologne. Here, Eckhart became known for his peculiar style in which he delivered sermons, known for their odd ways of presenting teachings. His sermons seemed to be heavily interested in the invitation of God-realization within one’s lifetime.
Eckhart's teachings belong to the rich history of Christian Mysticism. (Pictured is artwork by Hildegarn von Bingen)
Meister Eckhart has long been a go to figure in the world of mystical Christianity – a sect that is rarely shown much attention or care due to (in my estimation) the overbearing dogmatic perception most have regarding the religion; specifically that coming form the Catholic Church. The term mysticism also seems to conjure up a lot of fogginess and confusion; it often seems to be thrown into the realm of the supernatural or “woo-woo”. To better help understand the term, I refer to a definition offered by the recently passed Carmelite Nun Bernadette Roberts:
Mysticism is the revelation of God onto man.
This can be interpreted in many different ways, spanning many different lenses: that of various Religions and philosophies. In this way, mysticism is concerned with unity, yoga: of man and God – of the relative and the absolute: becoming one. There are many iterations on this idea, but the essential point to take away is that true mysticism (at least in my experience) is that which deals with the process of Self realization, perhaps even enlightenment… The idea that this notion exists at all amongst the Christian faith may come as a shock to many; I know it certainly did for me. The truth is however, that Christian mysticism has a rich and vast history and depth to it that is pierced with beauty and profundity. The bible itself mentions teachings that only those with the ears to hear and the eyes to see will understand. Of importance to note, is that Christian mysticism is presented by many female and male figures. This stands out, as it exists in a field that is usually dominated only by males.
Of Good Counsel
Eckhart provided a practical approach for the Western seeker to attain unity, or participation in God. He spoke and taught of detachment, prayer, mindfulness, truth and other topics that are well known to seekers across the world. To Eckhart, the human depiction of God taught us more about humans than it did about God. To him God wasn’t a he, an old man, a ”good” or even just. To Eckhart, God was being – existence itself. “every word that we can say of it is more a denial of what God is not than a declaration of what He is … the finest thing one can say about God is to be silent from the wisdom of inner riches.” His thoughts and teachings of detachment parallel those noted in the Vedic and Buddhist literature: The mind of him who stands detached is of such nobility that whatever he sees is true and whatever he desires he obtains and whatever he commands must be obeyed. And this you must know for sure: when the free mind is quite detached, it constrains God to itself and if it were able to stand formless and free of all accidentals, it would assume God’s proper nature … The man who stands thus in utter detachment is rapt into eternity in such a way that nothing transient can move him … Now you may ask what this detachment is that is so noble in itself. You should know that true detachment is nothing else but a mind that stands unmoved by all accidents of joy or sorrow, honour, shame or disgrace, as a mountain of lead stands unmoved by a breath of wind. This immovable detachment brings a man into the greatest likeness to God. For the reason why God is God is because of His immovable detachment and from this detachment, He has His purity, His simplicity and His immutability. Therefore, if a man is to be like God, as far as a creature can have likeness with God, this must come from detachment. This draws a man into purity, and from purity into simplicity, and from simplicity into immutability, and these things make a likeness between God and that man … This teaching of detachment coupled nicely with the Contemplative practice used in the world of Christian Mysticism. This practice is most likened to practices of simple meditation and introspection; all in the aim of drawing nearer to God. This hints at a crucial tenant of Eckhart’s teachings: that God is not ‘out there’, but rather forever present with us in the ‘silent mind’ of the human soul. To Eckhart, this silent mind is hindered and obstructed by our many habits and attachments. The most powerful prayer, one wellnigh omnipotent, and the worthiest work of all is the outcome of a quiet mind. The quieter it is the more powerful, the worthier, the deeper, the more telling and more perfect the prayer is. To the quiet mind all things are possible. What is a quiet mind? A quiet mind is one which nothing weighs on, nothing worries, which, free from ties and from all self-seeking, is wholly merged into the will of God and dead to its own. Eckhart spoke of the ‘God beyond God’ – the Godhead: that which is prior to all; the ineffable, indescribable, unspeakable, unknowable transcendental nature of God. It is much akin to Brahman in the Hindu religion. We should know the Godhead which has flowed into the Father and filled Him with joy, and which has flowed into the Son and filled Him with wisdom, and the Two are essentially one.
The transfiguration of Christ is a depiction of Hypostatic Union - union between man and the divine; a practice Eckhart offered his counsel on.
I will leave this post with a simple yet profound quote if Eckhart's that not only gets to the crux of his teaching, but also beautifully expresses his experience of the relationship between God and man.
The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.
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