Marco Perini

Meister Eckhart and the Knowledge of the Absolute

As it is well known, the esotericism of monotheisms expresses a wisdom by its nature limited to the knowledge of the non-Supreme. This aparavidyā uses the same language of the exterior theologians, often shrowded by eulogies and devotional formulas, to indicate a way of inner reintegration. This approach to a personal God is carried out through steps characterised by rituals performed with the body, the word and the mind. The way of pure knowledge beyond any action remains almost completely unknown due to the absence of a purely metaphysical magisterium. However, every now and then, exceptionally qualified personalities can stand out from the ranks of ordinary religion. These rare cases, although usually germinating from minor initiatic circles, rapidly obtain the perfect purification of the mind (antaḥkaraṇa) and ‘access’ a higher knowledge thanks to their natural inclinations. By virtue of their exceptionality, their literary production is more appreciable for the doctrinal contents rather than for exposing the relevant method. Certainly, one of the most prominent of these personalities is Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), author of passages of pure metaphysics which, as demonstrated by the following sound study by Marco Perini, are in many ways comparable to Śaṃkara’s Advaita . It is, indeed, symptomatic that precisely in Europe’s darkest hour, as far as the future of its medieval Tradition was concerned, the two greatest champions of Christian esotericism emerged: Eckhart representing the ars sacerdotalis, and Dante the ars regia. Both, to varying degrees, were subject to suspicion and fell under the eye of the Inquisition. It is truly astonishing how contemporary esotericists have overlooked Meister Eckhart and his works, which says a lot about their incompetence to understand true metaphysical doctrines; let alone that of those academic scholars who even considered him a precursor of Protestantism!

1. Meister Eckhart e la Conoscenza Dell’Assoluto

Fin dall’inizio del XIX secolo Meister Eckhart è stato figura privilegiata nelle comparazioni tra pensiero occidentale e pensiero orientale. Il monaco domenicano è vissuto a cavallo del 1300 e fu insignito per ben due volte dell’incarico di Magister, “maestro in sacra teologia” all’Università di Parigi, massimo riconoscimento che un appartenente all’ordine potesse ricevere – pur essendo profondamente radicato nel cristianesimo è stato tuttavia lontano dal comune modo di intenderne la dottrina, al punto che l’autorità ecclesiastica, dopo un lungo processo, con la bolla papale In Agro Dominico, il 27 marzo 1329, dichiarò eretiche diciassette sue proposizioni. Eckhart non conobbe però l’esito del processo: in circostanze a noi ignote, probabilmente all’inizio del 1328, la morte precedette il verdetto.

1. Meister Eckhart and the Knowledge of the Absolute

Since the early 19th century, Meister Eckhart has been a central figure when comparing the Western and Eastern thoughts. The Dominican monk – who lived during the 13th century and was two times appointed Magister, master of sacred theology, at the University of Paris, the highest recognition a member of the order could receive – despite his deep Christian roots, was however always distant from the common interpretation of the doctrine, so much so that on March 27, 1329 the ecclesiastical authority, with the papal bull In Agro Dominico, declared heretical seventeen of his propositions. However, Eckhart did not live long enough to hear the verdict of his trial. He passed away in unknown circumstances probably in early 1328.

2. Meister Eckhart e la conoscenza dell’Assoluto

Nel suo “fondo” l’anima è invece senza immagini e non viene mai a contatto con le creature. Per questo neanche le più alte potenze possono penetrare nella sua profondità: per operare hanno bisogno di rappresentarsi le cose, traendone un’immagine dall’esterno, tramite i sensi. Il loro modo di conoscere non può, quindi, essere adatto a conoscere Dio e la sua “scintilla” nell’anima.

2. Meister Eckhart and the Knowledge of the Absolute

Differently, in her “background” the soul is without images and never comes into contact with creatures. For this reason, not even the highest powers can penetrate into her depth. In order to function, they need to represent things, drawing images from the outside through their senses. Their way of knowing cannot, therefore, be suitable for knowing God and his “spark” in the soul. In fact, the part of the soul that is in the image of the Godhood does not lend itself to any image at all, being that silent abyss from which the very powers flow.

3. Meister Eckhart e la conoscenza dell’Assoluto

Discriminando tra Sé e non-Sé, colui che ricerca la Verità scopre sotto tutte le manifestazioni il Soggetto Assoluto, il Testimone. Ma operare una corretta discriminazione non vuol dire dividere ciò che è Sé da ciò che non lo è: non c’è niente oltre al Sé-Ātman: così, come per Eckhart, conoscere significa “essere” l’Assoluto.

3. Meister Eckhart and the Knowledge of the Absolute

By discriminating between the Self and the non-Self, he who seeks the Truth discovers under all manifestations the Absolute Subject, the Witness. However, making correct discrimination does not mean separating what is Self from what is not; there is nothing besides the Self-Ātman. Knowing the Absolute, the Reality, does not involve adding a new object of knowledge to one’s own erudition. Rather, it means ceasing to identify with what is different from it: thus, as Eckhart also said, it means “to be” the Absolute.