Eckhart, Coomaraswamy, and a ‘Common Universal Language’

As curator of Indian art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for many years, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy was described as a “unique fusion of art historian, philosopher, orientalist, linguist, and expositor” whose knowledge of Asian art was “unexcelled” and whose monographs on art “revolutionized entire fields of art.” He was convinced that primitive, medieval European, Indian, and classical experiences of truth and art “were only slightly different dialects in a common universal language.”

Photograph of Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947) (A. K. Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy). Taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1916. Wikimedia Commons.

In his chapter on Meister Eckhart in The Transformation of Nature in Art, Coomaraswamy writes: 

There was a time when Europe and Asia could and did actually understand each other very well. Asia has remained herself; but subsequent to the extroversion of the European consciousness and its preoccupation with surfaces, it has become more and more difficult for European minds to think in terms of unity, and therefore more difficult to understand the Asiatic point of view.

Of course, Eckhart did not directly read Hinduism’s rich scriptures.  Writes Coomaraswamy:

It is not of course suggested that any Indian elements whatever are actually present in Eckhart’s writing, though there are some Oriental factors in the European tradition, derived from neo-Platonic and Arabic sources. But what is proved by the analogies is not the influence of one system of thought upon another, but the coherence of the metaphysical tradition in the world and at all times.

Known as the “Green Patriarch,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has assumed an interfaith leadership role in portraying the climate crisis as a deeply spiritual issue directly connected to social issues.

This is exactly what Jung proposed, that there are universal archetypes held in common.

Isn’t it time that we bring up those truths and universal understandings, that shared wisdom that is the essence of all religion as Nicolas Cusa speaks of, as we face our common extinction as a species and the extinction of our planet as we know it?  That is why Deep Ecumenism is so important today.

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

Banner Image: The Golden Rule Bear and Universal Ethic Bear in Vienna, part of the 140-piece international collaborative exhibit of Universal Buddy Bears dedicated to peace and international understanding. Photographer unknown; Wikimedia Commons; to learn more of the Buddy Bears HERE.

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

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that we need to bring forth all the wisdom our species can muster as we stand up to climate change and extinction today?  Do Coomaraswamy and Eckhart help you sense that common wisdom?

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 “Eckhart, Coomaraswamy, and a ‘Common Universal Language’”

  1. Avatar

    Such a great message today.
    Our common goal , our task as a community (communio) is surely to come together not apart.
    The task before us demands it.

  2. Avatar

    Yesterday, I commented on the reality of humanity being in the midst of the birthing pains and joys of compassion. Over the past month, within my own spiritual journey, Spirit has led to my own experience of East meets West, with regards to this birthing of compassion, through the Universal Mother of Quan Yin and Mary. Also Mathews book, The Lotus and the Rose have been apart of this coherence. One comment Mathew speaks of in this book, I feel is important to explore further, which I hope he will consider in future DM, which is the need to redefine sacrifice, as the process of making holy.

    With all of the challenges we are facing and specifically the climate change crisis we are in, will require many sacrifices, globally from all of humanity. Broadening our perception and understanding of sacrifice, I sense is an important aspect in the process of birthing compassion.

    The Universal Mother within many spiritual paths and religions, I sense has much wisdom to offer us all, with regards to not only moving through the painful contractions of birthing compassion, but also to move away from our fear of sacrifice, into the deeper meaning of this being ” to make holy”.

    Perhaps, Mathew, you would be so kind as to speak more about redefining sacrifice in light of it being, “to make holy.”

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, the word “sacrifice” is a loaded word in Christian culture. In Catholicism there is the sacrifice of the Mass, which Catholics celebrate week by week. This sacrifice is rejected by Protestants who believe that when it says in the book of Hebrews (9:23-10:10 that the sacrifice of Christ was “once and for all” there was no more need for Christ to be “sacrificed” in the Mass. So then we cross over to the fact that all Christians of all denominations speak of making sacrifices for their faith–that is personal sacrifices, such as giving up drinking or smoking, or even living in a tough marriage where one speaks of the sacrifice as “the cross we must bear.” But these personal sacrifices are basically trivial in view of the big picture of the world. And so on a global scale–being both people of faith and citizens of the world, we have to think in terms of sacrifice for the good of Mother Earth. Try reading THE COMING OF THE COSMIC CHRIST where Matthew speaks of “Your Mother is Dying” in Part I, but especially chapter 1 of Part I…
      P.S. The word “Sanctify” which you will find in the passage I mentioned in Hebrews, means literally (in the original) to make holy or to set apart for a holy purpose. May we too be set apart in this holy work of saving our planet and working towards this together in deep ecumenism.

      1. Avatar

        Richard, thanks for your feedback. I will read up on what you have referenced. However, in my question I am inquiring about redefining sacrifice, beyond its religious connotations. Humanity in general views sacrifice as a loss, and also in general fears loss.

        For example at the recent climate change talks, I’ve realized that decisions made and committed to seemed to to viewed as to the economic loss the decisions themself when followed through on would cost. There seemed to be a fear based mentality underlining the majority of decisions being made, as to the loss, the cost, the sacrifice involved, in order to follow through with the necessary changes regarding climate change. My seeking to address this, is seeing the need as Mathew has said, in redefining our understanding of sacrifice… as an act of holiness.

        Those whom are spiritually aware, understand this on some level. However how do we communicate this on a level in which those with political and economic power can understand it, in terms of the lines of thinking that they are currently perceiving and understanding sacrifice. Most people in these levels and positions of power, often need to see a personal gain for their country, in order to accept the sacrifice, the gain. It seems as if our very existence and the existence of all of creation escapes their economics of sacrifice.

        1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
          Richard Reich-Kuykendall

          Jeanette, You say, “Humanity in general views sacrifice as a loss, and also in general fears loss”–in this you speak the truth. And what applies to the individual, also applies to nations as well. Just as individuals see loss as a sacrifice, so do nations. Anything, any change that involves a loss of revenue is seen as sacrifice, and one that shouldn’t be made because of the economic implications. I know in my state of California we have very strong clean air laws on car exhaust. Even though, right now I’m in the process of trying to get my car to pass being smogged, and it takes time and money–its a sacrifice I’m willing to make. When I was a young boy in the 50s and early 60s, I remember the smog was so bad in Southern California that my eyes watered and my chest hurt from breathing. But now, relatively speaking, the air is breathable thanks to the fact that our state government was able to make a sacrifice that made money for the smog stations, and helped the environment!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, like a gentle rain on the parched earth–and living in Northern California there’s a lot of the land that is parched from the fires… More evidence of climate change ???

  3. Avatar

    My faith and hope is that my daily silent contemplative prayer will continue to gracefully allow God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Creativity to heal, purify, transform my old ego self towards Loving Oneness with-in All of God’s Ongoing Creation in the Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment….

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for bringing such deep and broad wisdom forward every day. It is so important that we as humans open our consciousness to a view of reality that goes far beyond anthropocentricism. I find it enormously compelling that Mother Gaia’s antibodies in the form of the Covid virus, are so much focused on the agencies of patriarchal, western, capitalistic exploitation; that the highest number of covid deaths has occured in the most capitalistic, exploitative culture/ economy on the planet; and that statistically men are much more likely to die of covid than women. We have come to a paradigm shift. We can either refocus or perish. The divine source is not ‘other’. We each individually and collectively arise from that same source. We must rebalance inwardly toward the unity of all. Deep Ecumenism reflective of the organic nature of the evolving cosmos is the only way forward. We can become attuned to it and facilitate the transition, or we can continue in the habits of death and meaninglessness. I pray that with my remaining days I may rise to that challenge.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Dana, You write, “Deep Ecumenism reflective of the organic nature of the evolving cosmos is the only way forward. We can become attuned to it and facilitate the transition, or we can continue in the habits of death and meaninglessness.” Matthew contrasts what he calls, “Biophilia” vs “Necrophilia”–that is the love of life vs the love of death. This is the choice we are given today: “How long will you halt between two opinions?” If God is life, choose God, but if we choose the way of death, God help us!

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