Taoism and Meister Eckhart on Contemplation and Meditation

The Tao te Ching advises letting be and promises a return to our origins when it counsels:

Chapter 28 of the Tao te Ching, “Embracing the World As It Is,” translated by J.H. McDonald. Uploaded to Youtube by tranquility gateway.

Accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

We have seen this promise of “returning to our primal self” in the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh as well as Meister Eckhart and Thomas Aquinas, a return to our “original goodness” (Aquinas) or Godhead from which all beings emanate (Eckhart); or our “birthright” (Julian of Norwich). 

The promise of luminosity is repeated in the Taoist teaching about contemplation or meditation.

“Daoist Immortal Lu Dongbin Crossing Lake Dongting” by an anonymous Southern Song paint. Fan, ink on silk. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons.

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her her radiance.
The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

We are instructed to quit clinging, in other words, to let go and let be.  These are the identical instructions that Meister Eckhart gives time and again in his teachings about abgeschiedenheit and gelassenheit which I translate as letting go and letting be. 

Over thirty-five years ago, I was giving a lecture at Luther College in Thousand Oaks, California and when I finished someone handed me a note which said: “Please meet me at my Office Number xx.”  I went to that office and there I met the head of the political science department who was from China.  He was a Taoist and he told me ever since coming to America he had made a point of attending churches every Sunday looking for Taoist teachings.  And, he said, my talk was the first truly Taoist talk he had ever heard from a Christian. Of course, in my talk, I cited Meister Eckhart frequently.

“Confucius Meets Lao-Tsu” Silk painting by Shih K’ang, Yuan Dynasty, 1261-1368. Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons.

It turns out, Meister Eckhart is also a Taoist!  In my book, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times,  I envision him in a room sharing a conversation in each chapter: with a Jew (Rabbi Heschel), with a Buddhist (Thich Naht Hanh), with a Hindu (Coomaraswamy), with Sufis (Rumi, Hafiz and ben Arabi), with an indigenous holy man (Black Elk), as well as with Carl Jung and scientists Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry.  But now he belongs with Taoists also.

Solitude. Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

This man, it turned out, was very close to Dag Hammarskjold, the head of the United Nations who was also a mystic in his own right.  (And, by all accounts, died a martyr as his plane crashed while working in Africa: speculation has always been that he was murdered by the Soviets). 

I invited him to come and lecture on Hammarskjold and his spirituality in my ICCS master’s program at Mundelein College in Chicago. 

Solitude is not an enemy.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 206f.

See also: Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times.

Banner Image: “Zhuangzi Dreaming of a Butterfly” Lu Zhi  (1496–1576)  Ink on silk, Ming Dynasty. Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Have you had, as the Tao te Ching proposes, experiences that you were “one with the whole universe?”  What were the circumstances that triggered that oneness experience?  What effects did it render in your soul and your actions and your way of looking at the world?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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4 thoughts on “Taoism and Meister Eckhart on Contemplation and Meditation”

  1. Avatar
    Dr Bruce Robertson

    Thank you for these beautiful meditations. I shared in your important course on Thomas Aquinas but did not want to distract with the following question:
    In the 4 gospels, the theme of ‘marriage’ appears frequently – Cana, feast, garment, virgins. And in the Gospel of Philip, the theme is developed into the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. What is your understanding of this theme? Is it a third ‘baptism’-transformation, like the 3 ‘passes’ in the Secret of the Golden Flower? Does David Bohm’s implicate/explicate orders currently being discussed at the Pari Center in Italy cast any light here?
    Thank you for considering this question.
    With gratitude, Bruce

    1. Carol Kilby

      Thank you Bruce for your question. While I won’t attempt to answer for Matthew, I enjoy that you’re raised the metaphor of marriage as part of this morning’s meditation on meditation. Marriage – a metaphor of interconnectedness, seems a wonderful way of understanding the wisdom of Taoism, Christian mysticism, and more: silence is that place of union with original goodness or divinity.
      Carol Kilby for DMMTeam.

  2. Avatar

    You must first pass through the Valley of Death before you ever realize the light for both resides in us all!!


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