Meister Eckhart & Hinduism: East Meets West as We Face a Common Adversary

Meister Eckhart’s deep resonances with the Hindu tradition may partly be explained by the Celtic presence among the Middle Age Rhineland mystical movement, so evident in Hildegard of Bingen, who was raised in a Celtic monastery on the Rhine river.  The likenesses between Eckhart and Hinduism can assist in this time of facing a common foe of Climate Change and our and other species extinction.  We can call on a common wisdom of East and West, a Deep Ecumenism that assists with interspiritual vision and practice. 

“Hindu festival of Diwali, Uluwatu Temple, Indonesia” by Johan Mouchet, Unsplash.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947) was born in Sri Lanka of an English mother and Sri Lankan father and studied as a young man in England.  He was fluent in 36 languages!  He first introduced me to Meister Eckhart on my reading his classic book, The Transformation of Nature in Art, in 1976That book, published in 1934, dedicates a chapter to Meister Eckhart and his view of art, which I found deeply striking. 

It is telling that Indian and Eastern thinkers were taking Eckhart seriously before very many Westerners did. Remember that it was Japanese Buddhist philosopher D. T. Suzuki who, in 1959, first introduced Eckhart to the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and in the process Merton was converted from a dualistic monk to a prophetic Christian and pioneer in the Deep Ecumenism movement.  (Merton also wrote his Master’s thesis on Eckhart and Coomaraswamy’s book, The Transformation of Nature in Art, while at Columbia University.)

So keenly does Coomaraswamy see the similarities between Eckhart and Indian thought that he says: Eckhart’s Sermons might well be termed an Upanishad of Europe. . . . Eckhart presents an astonishingly close parallel to Indian modes of thought; some whole passages and many single sentences read like a direct translation from Sanskrit.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 157-159.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Hindu statue found at the Batu Cave in Malaysia. Photo by Callous Gee on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How does it strike you to hear a Western mystic’s writings “an Upanishad of Europe” and reading him to be like “a direct translation from Sanskrit”?

Recommended Reading

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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11 thoughts on “Meister Eckhart & Hinduism: East Meets West as We Face a Common Adversary”

  1. Avatar

    We are in the midst of the pain of birthing compassion. May we embrace the process of this birthing, all of its pains and it’s joys, for there is Beauty, Meaning and Purpose within this. May we surrender in trust to all those spiritual companions that are midwifing us through this painful yet joyous transformation. May our suffering throughout this birthing be alleviated as we acknowledge, receive, accept and respond to that which has already been given, awakening all to the truth and reality that what we need resides inherently within, awaiting the first breath of new life, named Compassion.

    Everything, all of creation is crying out in laboring groans, a wordless prayer echoed throughout the cosmos. Spirit whispers… breath deep, let go, open and allow yourself to expand through the contractions… remember that though there will be pain… there will also be tears of joy at the dawning of the new birth of Compassion.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You write, “We are in the midst of the pain of birthing compassion. May we embrace the process of this birthing, all of its pains and it’s joys, for there is Beauty, Meaning and Purpose within this.” You are right, we ARE in the midst of birthing compassion in view of what is involved in deep ecumenism. And this birthing has been painful for those pioneers who have tried to bring the Church–post Vatican II–into the 21st century. Those like Matthew and his ONE RIVER MANY WELLS, and Hans Kung and his CHRISTIANITY AND THE WORLD RELIGIONS: PATHS TO DIALOUGE WITH ISLAM, HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM. Matthew has spoken here about Meister Eckhart and Hinduism, earlier he spoke about the Islamic Sufis, Rumi and Hafiz and he has his book, THE LOTUS AND THE ROSE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN TIBETAN BUDDHISM AND MYSTICAL CHRISTIANITY. For me it has only been a joyful birthing, but I can see how within the Catholic tradition it has been painful for some in that Hans Kung and Matthew Fox–and others in the Church have now been axed (and I know there were a variety of other reasons for this). And you too have joined those who see the need of deep ecumenism–thank God for that!

    1. Avatar

      But in his writing Merton incorporated Coomaraswamy and Eckhart where he (Merton) praised Eckhart as a “great medieval thinker.” (See Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, p. 29. )

  2. Avatar

    Matthew’s excellent portrayal of Deep Ecumenism reminds me of Karen Armstrong’s 2019 book: THE LOST ART OF SCRIPTURE: Rescuing the Sacred Texts:

    In Armstrong’s timely and important book, one of the most trusted and admired writers on the world of faith examines the meaning of Scripture. The sacred texts have been co-opted by fundamentalists, who insist that they must be taken literally, and by others who interpret Scripture to bolster their own prejudices. These texts are seen to prescribe ethical norms and codes of behavior that are divinely ordained: they are believed to contain eternal truths. But as Karen Armstrong shows in this chronicle of the development and significance of major religions, such a narrow, peculiar reading of Scripture is a relatively recent, modern phenomenon. For most of their history, the world’s religious traditions have regarded these texts as tools that enable the individual to connect with the divine, to experience a different level of consciousness, and to help them engage with the world in more meaningful and compassionate ways.

    At a time of intolerance and mutual incomprehension, The Lost Art of Scripture shines fresh light on the world’s major religions to help us build bridges between faiths and rediscover a creative and spiritual engagement with holy texts.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for sharing, Gwen. Anything that helps people move away from fundamentalism is a good thing as far as we are concerned…

  3. Avatar

    In 1982 I wrote a Masters thesis on the English poet William Blake. After much digging in the library I discovered Meister Eckhardt, Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas Berdyaev, and Ananda Coomeraswami. Columbia University even leant me Thomas Merton’s original thesis on Blake via interlibrary loan. I am fascinated and affirmed by your current meditations on these thinkers. Thank you so much.

      1. Avatar

        I was fortunate to be studying at the East Tennessee State University Library which had all the authors Matthew Fox has discussed, and Columbia was generous to lend me Merton’s thesis.

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