Thich Naht Hanh and Teilhard de Chardin on the Cosmic Mass

Often in our Cosmic Masses we invoke passages from Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh, who seems to grasp the archetypal nature of the Christian Eucharist.  To do so puts participants, whether Christian or not, at ease.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks on finding the cosmos in a piece of bread through mindful eating. Uploaded to YouTube by ICPPD.

The idea of a “sacred meal” is very much an ancient archetype found around the world.  Thich Naht Hahn addresses the subject of the Eucharist within a context of Cosmic Christ theology when he says:

Not many people want to become priests in our day, but everyone is hungry.  So many people are hungry for spiritual food, there are so many hungry souls.

And he speaks of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper reenacted in Catholic worship:

‘Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood’–Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up?  What could Jesus have said that is better than that?

“I Am the Bread” Sculpture by M.C.Richards. Station Five in The Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

….This piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos.  If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos.  Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread.  Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread?  The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread.  You eat it in such a way that you come alive, truly alive.[1] 

Thich Naht Hanh is pointing out that a Cosmic Christ understanding applies very much to our worship practices and reverence follows when one recognizes the holiness of all bread, all that goes into bread, all being.

“My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit.” ~ Teilhard de Chardin, Mass on the World. Photo by Christine McIntosh on Flickr.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, scientist and mystic, composed his “Mass on the World” in 1923 on the Feast of the Transfiguration (one of the most explicit feasts featuring the Cosmic Christ in the church’s calendar and among all the Cosmic Christ stories in the Gospels) when he was on a scientific expedition in China and away from the usual accoutrements for saying Mass such as wine, bread, chalice, etc.   He says:

When Christ comes to one of his faithful it is not simply in order to commune with him as an individual…The effect of the priestly act extends beyond the consecrated host to the cosmos itself…; the entire realm of matter is slowly but irresistibly affected by this great consecration.

Teilhard goes further, relating the act of the Eucharist to the “divinizing of the entire universe.”   Following are Teilhard’s words:

Excerpts from the Mass on the World offered at Georgetown University April 9, 2015 to honor Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, on the 60th anniversary of his death. Uploaded to YouTube by Frank Frost.

When Christ, extending the process of his incarnation, descends into the bread in order to replace it, his action is not limited to the material morsel which his presence will, for a brief moment, volatilize: this transubstantiation is aureoled with a real though attenuated divinizing of the entire universe.  From the particular cosmic element into which he has entered the activity of the Word goes forth to subdue and to draw into himself all the rest.[2] 

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, p. 107.

[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Hymn of the Universe, pp. 13f.

Adapted from Matthew Fox and Marc Andrus, Stations of the Cosmic Christ, p. 173. 

See also, Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp.211-227.

Banner Image: The Helix Nebula, a/k/a the “Eye of God,” in the constellation of Aquarius, lies about 650 light-years away and about 2.5 light years in width. It is the closest object of its type (planetary nebula) to the earth. Photo by John Myers on Flickr.

What does it mean to you that a Buddhist monk offers so profound an understanding of Christian worship as Thich Naht Hanh does in this passage cited above?  What does that tell us of deep ecumenism or interfaith at work now and in the future?

Resurrection Logic: How Jesus’ First Followers Believed God Raised Him from the Dead

Bruce Chilton investigates the Easter event of Jesus in Resurrection Logic. He undertakes his close reading of the New Testament texts without privileging the exact nature of the resurrection, but rather begins by situating his study of the resurrection in the context of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Syrian conceptions of the afterlife. He then identifies Jewish monotheistic affirmations of bodily resurrection in the Second Temple period as the most immediate context for early Christian claims. Chilton surveys first-generation accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and finds a pluriform–and even at times seemingly contradictory–range of testimony from Jesus’ first followers. This diversity, as Chilton demonstrates, prompted early Christianity to interpret the resurrection traditions by means of prophecy and coordinated narrative.

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

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4 thoughts on “Thich Naht Hanh and Teilhard de Chardin on the Cosmic Mass”

  1. Avatar

    It strikes me that bread is the eucharistic food as opposed to, for instance, a wild berry. Bread is both the symbol of the sustenance of the universe and the emblem of agriculture which may be the font of technology that is leading us to self-annihilation. On closer examination, bread is the symbol of the journey through our infatuation with technology that has brought us to the precipice and our calling to work our way through it. So bread is not simply a symbol of the beneficence of the universe but of the struggle of humans to be in right relation. It’s a bit troubling that bread is no longer considered to be highly nutritive and in most of its manifestations today it is so highly processed that it’s actually unhealthy. Did the original language of the Eucharist use a word that meant “bread” specifically, or was it a more generic word that was later translated as bread?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Seth,
      I guess the sacred bread would have been whole grain unleavened for Passover and would have been a very different wheat than we eat today which is horribly de-sacralized. Ours is a hybrid that is full of indigestible proteins and is now one foot high instead of three. The earth is made barren by polluting, soil destroying machines and herbicides (no problem with the wheat and the weeds!). The grain has to be force fed with harsh chemicals and doused with poisonous glyphosate to dry it so we don’t have to worry about the weather. The earth has little to do with it and probably the Eucharist was a new covenant to include matter and earth with the blood of life…animal and human. I’m glad you mentioned this because my husband is among the growing number of people who can’t eat wheat. He is excluded from the current Eucharist as alcoholics are excluded from the wine yet his participation in the great feast of communion which has lost all meaning in this Kingdom of suffering can never be excluded. Star matter and sea drenched living bodies and Holy mind/spirit change into the body and blood of Christ in the more conscious and loving Kingdom that is ‘coming’. Every moment we breathe in and out the totality…conscious or not…living or not. Existence is our ticket to God’s Kingdom.

    2. Rev. Dr. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Rev. Dr. Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      The Greek word that is used in the New Testament for bread is “artos” and it means simply bread. It is also the word used for “shewbread” which was the bread of the presence in the Jewish temple…

  2. Rev. Dr. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Rev. Dr. Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    The Greek word that is used in the New Testament for bread is “artos” and it means simply bread. It is also the word used for “shewbread” which was the bread of the presence in the Jewish temple…

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