We have been meditating on the experience of the “ground of being” which Thich Naht Hanh says is his favorite name for God. His close friend Catholic monk Thomas Merton often invoked that same concept.
In his essay “Buddhism and the Modern World,” published in Mystics & Zen Masters in 1961, Merton invokes Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki who, when teaching of the “True Self” as the formless, original mind,
…explicitly compared this concept to that of the Godhead in Meister Eckhart and the Rhenish mystics.
He explains Suzuki’s use of the word mind in Zen as not meaning
…the intellectual faculty as such but rather what the Rhenish mystics [including Eckhart] called the ‘ground’ of our soul or of our being, a ‘ground’ which is . . . enlightened and aware, because it is in immediate contact with God.
Merton credits Suzuki with “obviously thinking of Eckhart” when Suzuki talks of the light of Prajna penetrating “the ground nature of consciousness” and illuminating things inside and outside.
Merton praises the indigenous peoples of Africa for their “reverence for life and for the sacred, creative dynamism of life, expressed in” their art symbolism as “extremely deep and pure,” for example, in depicting animals. He points out how the killing of animals was eventually prohibited in India because
…one encounters an even deeper level of communion: the level of being itself. Man and the animal are finally seen as sharing in the ontological mystery of being, they are somehow one ‘in God the Creator.’ Or as Hinduism would say the Atman is one in them both.
Eckhart has an entire sermon on the “equality of being” among humans and animals and indeed, all beings.
Love and friendship are part of our encounter with Being which includes a
…metaphysical intuition of Being . . . an intuition of a ground of openness, indeed of a kind of ontological openness and an infinite generosity which communicates itself to everything that is. ‘The good is diffusive of itself,’ or ‘God is love.’ Openness is not something to be acquired, but a radical gift.
In other words, a grace.
In contrast to God as object, and the idols that result from that consciousness, Merton saw another option:
Another, metaphysical, consciousness is still available to modern man and woman. It starts not from the thinking and self-aware subject [that is, not from anthropocentrism] but from Being, ontologically seen to be beyond and prior to the subject-object division. Underlying the subjective experience of the individual self, there is an immediate experience of Being.
This is totally different from an experience of self-consciousness. It is completely nonobjective. It has in it none of the split and alienation that occurs when the subject becomes aware of itself as a quasi-object. The consciousness of being (whether considered positively or negatively and apophatically as in Buddhism) is an immediate experience that goes beyond reflexive awareness. It is not ‘consciousness of’ but pure consciousness, in which the subject as such ‘disappears.’
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 34, 240, 237.
And Matthew Fox, “Sermon Five: How All Creatures Share an Equality of Being,” in Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 91-102.
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A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.
Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.
Join Rabbi Rami Shapiro and Rev. Matthew Fox for a 1.5-day Virtual Teach-in on “Cosmic Wisdom and the Divine Feminine: Lost Insights for an Emerging World.” Friday, June 25, 4:00 PM to Saturday, June 26, 2:30 PM Pacific (GMT/UTC-7). Enroll HERE.