Eckhart, Suzuki, Merton on Truth, Formlessness & the Original Mind

Yesterday we considered the understanding of God as our “ground” and how we can, in Julian’s words, access divinity and our true selves by “digging and ditching.”  

Form and formlessness: the Zen meditation garden of Erik Borja, Crozes Hermitage vineyards, northern Rhône wine region of France. Wikimedia Commons.

Buddhist teacher D. T. Suzuki calls this the “formless, original mind.”  When I hear the term “original mind” I think of “original blessing.” 

When Suzuki talks about our “formless, original mind,” I think of how, years ago when I was undergoing an operation on my back, Eckhart came to me and we went walking together on the beach.  No words were spoken.  He was wearing a Dominican habit with the capuce covering his head but he had no face as such—it was formless. 

It was the most transcendent dream of my life.  Shortly after that, I started work on my first book on Eckhart, then called Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation and now called Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart.

Meister Eckhart/Unio Mystica: A monk at whose center is a symbol uniting ratio and eros, heaven and earth, the male and the female energies in himself – thinking and feeling. Image by Hartwig HKD on Flickr.

Was I meeting a formless, original mind of Meister Eckhart?  Was it formless because it could have been anyone or everyone?  Was it original because we were walking at the ocean which is the origin of life and new life? 

Was it original because all creativity is an expression of our originality and Eckhart was a champion of creativity as a pathway to truth?  He said, 

The truth does not come from outside in but from inside out and passes through an inner form.

Merton put it this way:

In Zen enlightenment, the discovery of the ‘original face before you were born is the discovery not that one sees Buddha but that one is Buddha.  

This is Cosmic Christ language.

“Cosmic Consciousness: Growing awareness and a consciousness expanding into the cosmic frame liberate the ego from its annoying inner conflict. ” Image by Hartwig HKD on Flickr.

He compares the Zen teaching of a direct grasp of one’s “original face” to Paul’s Christ-based mysticism: Such is the attainment of the ‘Buddha mind,’ or ‘Buddhahood.’  (Compare the Christian expressions ‘having the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16), being ‘of one Spirit with Christ,’ ‘He who is united to the Lord as one spirit.’ (1 Cor. 6. 17).

Eckhart talks of the original mind when he says:

I am unborn, and following the way of my unborn being I can never die.  Following the way of my unborn being I have always been, I am now, and shall remain eternally…In this breakthrough I discover that I and God are one.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 230f.  

And Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, p. 407.

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

Banner Image: “The Monk by the Sea.” Painting by Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1809. Wikimedia Commons via Google Art Project.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you understand the “formless, original mind?”  How do you interpret the story of walking on the beach with Meister Eckhart?

Recommended Reading

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.  

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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9 thoughts on “Eckhart, Suzuki, Merton on Truth, Formlessness & the Original Mind”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I understand original mind as cosmic/universal consciousness; the formless, originating, creative, imaginative Spirit of the She thoughts and He thoughts of the Divine Father/Mother… FOCUSED together… in a sacred union, which takes on SUBSTANCE in time and space; continously incarnating, manifesting into complex infinite FORMATIONS… which we see unfolding, evolving, emerging and converging in all matter. All that exists, is a mirror reflection of this one unified field of cosmic/universal consciousness.

    The image that arises, is that written of in scripture, and experienced in the visions of the mystics… the wings of Spirit with eyes, spinning on wheels, moving in all directions; hovering over the emerald/blue sea…

    Teilhard named this the noosphere… others call it Divine love, continously birthing Sacred life. The all and the everything of creation, including humanity… is thought of and seen as an original blessing that is inherently beautiful and very good… unfolding, evolving, emerging and converging in relationship with this cosmic/universal sea of consciousness, this mysterious essence and presence of Spirit present within all existence. Look into the mirror, and see the reflection of that I AM.

  2. Avatar

    The formlessness of ourselves unborn is who we are before we incarnate or form, and wo we are when we return. We are Love…because God, the formless who manifests through form, is Love.

  3. Avatar

    I understand “formless original mind” similarly to the way I understand “ground of Being” in yesterday’s DM. Similarly “Buddha mind” and “Cosmic Christ Consciousness” are other similar expressions for the “enlightenment” goal of our spiritual journey, a spiritual transformation of consciousness by the grace of God’s Divine Love~Wisdom which I personally prefer to call “Loving Diverse Oneness in our Eternal Hearts~Souls.”

  4. Avatar

    Hello Matthew,
    Thank you for sharing your numinous dream walking on the beach with Eckhart.
    I love it when you share stories and still recall the one where you are sitting
    with your mother before her death. If I am correct, she is not afraid but looking
    forward with curiosity to a new adventure. I am reading your book on Thomas
    Merton, A Way to God, in preparation for visiting Gethsemani in June. Also,
    enjoyed reading your autobiography some years ago. Placed MD Chenu’s photo
    into my album as one of my guides. His book on the 12th century fell into my
    hands as a young woman and shook me to my core. Marijo

    1. Avatar

      Hello, Marijo. I hesitate to reply to you because so many rich teachings come from our readers and I don’t want to insult anyone by not replying to their comments (Don’t have the time). But I had to comment on your reading Chenu’s “Nature, Man and Society in the 12th Century” book as a young woman and its “sharing you to the core.” I used that book as a text book at Barat college for several years (a woman’s undergraduate college) and then too many were deeply affected by it. It is a “trip” to read it. I walked them through it almost page by page–it is that full of insight and wisdom. I had responses like yours to their reading it. Thank you for bringing back those beautiful memories. I will be sure to put your comment into the book I am writing on Chenu.

  5. Avatar

    The ONE: Real/True: Absolute Truth (not illusion).
    Gifted/revealed into the soul in direct union/participation (direct mystical consciousness), as pure Consciousness beyond differentiation and limitation (G*d), existing also as, but not separated from, One Reflection, a template of Form and Being/Loving, beyond time, space and individuation (The Son/Logos), which in turn Reflects into one eternal Creation: endless variation/matter/change within the one Whole.

    The absolutely crucial Truth within this mysticism is the foundational belief in the ONE, the Transcendent G*d underlying all of Creation, who reveals their pure Truth, their Being directly to humans AS FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH, reflected into human consciousness to the extent we’re able to perceive it with our very limited human brains (non-dualistically/Revelation). This is an absolute insistence of the Reality and Totality of the One/God, rather than of “a god” as any vague type of illusion or as a created deity, perceived only within matter or dependent upon human, dualistic brains (G*d as a temporary, conditional, or projected form of “other, ” “thought,” or “thing”).

    G*d is Truth, in and beyond all forms of consciousness, matter, and time.

  6. Avatar

    God is the Life, in truth all living things experience, by following Life, by simply living. All living tings die. If we don’t ever die we would be lifeless and never live. Life never dies and that is why Life needs things like water and soil, both teeming with living things, to keep us alive and according to science are lifeless. The Truth that for living things that God is the spiritual, invisible, silent Life, that is with us always. We are never alone. Life transcendence is observed in Life’s relationship with lifeless things.

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