Eckhart Society Conference -2013

The 26th Annual conference of The Eckhart Society
6-8 September 2013

Took place at High Leigh Conference Centre, Lord Street, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire EN11 8SG

The Theme was Eckhart and Eastern Religions.

The Speakers were:

Michael Barnes SJ, Professor in Interreligious Relations, Heythrop College, University of London

Narratives of Detachment: Meister Eckhart and Buddhaghosa on
Personal Transformation

Eckhart has long held a fascination for Buddhists – not least one of the greatest of his translators, Maurice Walshe. At first this seems unlikely. For all the paradoxical nature of his writing, Eckhart is a resolute theist; the great theme of his teaching about the birth of the Word in the soul hardly seems compatible with the Buddhist insistence that existence is marked by insubstantiality or the ‘lack ofsoul’. Nevertheless a dialogue between theists and non-theists is often fruitful, if only for the way it questions the most basic of assumptions. This paper proposes a dialogue between Eckhart and the 5th Century Theravadin commentator Buddhaghosa. Central to this discussion is the virtue of detachment  – for Eckhart the greatest of virtues, yet also described as ‘absolutely nothing, for it is the culminating point where God can do precisely as he will’. Such startling rhetoric only makes sense when set against a way of life, what Buddhaghosa calls the ‘path of purification’. This perhaps is where a dialogue can  begin. The Noble Eightfold Path describes a spiralling movement in which cognitive and affective elements lead to an ever-simplified intuitive sensitivity to experience – a quality described enigmatically as ‘equanimity’. But what precisely do Christian and Buddhist mean? What role do detachment and equanimity play in their respective paths? And in what way can the Noble Eightfold Path be held to support – or subvert – what Eckhart would understand as the contemplative freedom that allows God’s Word to be born?

Martin Ganeri OP, Director of the Centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop College, University of London

‘that all may be one, as you, Father, in me and I in you, that they may be one in us’ (John 17.21).

The Language of Identity and Communion in Eckhart and

Interest in the relationship and creative interaction between Eckhart and Hindu spirituality continues to the present, especially when it comes to finding parallels for the idea of mystical union between God and human beings. This paper brings Eckhart into conversation with an important theist Vedantic theologian, Ramanuja (traditional dates C.E. 1017-1137). The paper will consider how Eckhart and Ramanuja use the language of identity as a powerful vehicle to convey the close communion of God and human beings, while eschewing any suggestion of strict unity. Within the modern discipline of comparative theology a Christian theologian undertakes to engage with the thought of other religious traditions in pursuit of a more richly expressed Christian theology, just as the Scholastic tradition engaged with Greek, Islamic and Jewish thought. As an exercise in comparative theology this paper will thus further suggest ways in which encounter with the thought of Ramanuja might itself serve to help a Christian theologian appreciate Eckhart more fully by developing a richer account of the unitive language and mystical spirituality found in his work.

Hugh Nicholson, Assistant Professor of Theology, Loyola University, Chicago

The Modern Reception of Eckhart and Indic Philosophies and
the Future of East-West Comparison

It is well known that the universalist presuppositions of past "East-West" comparisons -- whether of a universal religious experience or of putatively universal laws of human development -- have become highly questionable in recent decades. In light of the postmodernist critique of cross-cultural universals, past comparisons between Meister Eckhart and Asian thought now appear arbitrary, imperialistic, and superficial. Against the temptation to abandon the project of East-West comparison, I argue that a recognition of the importance of reception history in the comparative enterprise, that is, the historical processes by which the phenomena compared have each become of interest and concern to the comparativist, justifies future comparisons between Eckhart and Eastern thought. For the very questions and concerns that shaped the modern reception of Meister Eckhart in the nineteenth century were precisely those that inspired the contemporaneous oriental renaissance. Specifically, the rediscovery of Eckhart's work in nineteenth century Germany occurred in the context of an intense concern about "pantheism," a term referring to philosophies that emphasized the divine presence in the world and were for that reason envisioned as presenting an alternative to Enlightenment Deism and to what was believed by many to be Christianity’s one-sided emphasis on divine transcendence. Pantheism, moreover, was believed to be exemplified in Vedanta and some Mahayana Buddhist philosophies that were Just then entering into European consciousness. To the extent, then, that the interest in the pantheism (allegedly) exemplified in certain forms of Hinduism and Buddhism was integral to the modern reception of Meister Eckhart, comparisons between Eckhart and Eastern thought are not arbitrary. They represent opportunities to reflect critically on the religious presuppositions of the tradition of modern scholarship and thereby clarify ourthinking.

This critical genealogical aim distinguishes future comparisons between Eckhart and Eastern thought from those of the past. Past comparisons between Eckhart and Eastern philosophy tended to fall into either one of two categories. The first, represented by a tradition that includes G. W. F. Hegel, Rudolf Otto, R. C. Zaehner, and Michael Stoeber, uses Vedanta and/or Buddhism as a foil against which to vindicate the orthodoxy of Christian mysticism and to establish its superiority over its Indic counterparts. The second category, represented by a tradition that includes Arthur Schopenhauer, Paul Deussen, and D. Z. Suzuki, uses such comparisons to isolate a putative core of spiritual insight from its cultural and doctrinal integuments. Generally speaking, both the Christian apologists and the perennialists tended to (mis)represent, in an unreflectiv manner, their apologetic or perennialist presuppositions as the a posteriori conclusions of an impartial empirical study. If there is anything that distinguishes the east-west comparisons of the future from those of the past, it is the imperative to specify and justify the intended purposes served by a particular exercise in comparison.

Dr. Scott Steinkerchner OP, Associaste Director, Centre for Dominican Studies, Ohio Dominican University

Eckhart and the Lotus Sutra: Skillful Means in speaking what cannot be spoken

This paper is a comparative investigation of Meister Eckhart's language about God and God's incarnation in the human soul as a Christian analogue of the Mahayana Buddhist understanding of "skillful means" in teaching doctrine as found in the Lotus Sutra (Sanskrit:Saddarma Pundarika Sutra).

"Skillful means" is a term in Mahayana Buddhism that signifies how a master replies  to questions from a learner. Masters tell learners what they need to hear at that moment to help them move forward. Thus, a master could answer the exact same question in opposite ways if two different people ask it, or if one person asks is at different times of his or her life. Eckhart often uses contradictory and provocative  statements about God, and I will argue that "skillful means" is a more fruitful way  of characterizing these statements than current descriptions such as "dialectical" or simply"paradoxical."


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