Eckhart, Thich Nhat Hanh, Hildegard on God as Ground of Being

We have been meditating on how God is Being and how holy being is.  The Book of Acts recalls the earliest days of Christianity and cites a sermon calling God “the one in whom we live, move, and have our being.” 

Anchored in the darkness deep below the water, in the mud and silt, a lotus blooms above the surface. Photo by Thanapat on Flickr.

To call God “the Ground of Being” is to find Divinity in the depth of things, the foundation of things, the profundity of things.  And in the truth of things, our own “true selves” and our efforts to pursue truth and commit to truth over falsehood.

We all have a depth, a ground, a presence and there, says Eckhart, lies Divinity, for God is the ground of being and “God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground.”

Thich Nhat Hanh agrees when he says:

All notions applied to the phenomenal worlds…are transcended.  The greatest relief we can obtain is available when we touch the ultimate, Tillich’s ‘ground of being’…Life is no longer confined to time and space.  

Author Frederick Buechner draws a distinction between the existence of God and God as the ground of existence.

Thich Nhat Hanh did not know that Paul Tillich got his language of God as “ground of being” from Meister Eckhart.  But “ground of being” was Thich Nhat Hanh’s favorite name for divinity.

Thich Nhat Hanh equates “nirvana” and “God” and “ground of being” when he says: 

God as the ground of being cannot be conceived of.   Nirvana also cannot be conceived of.  If we are aware when we use the word ‘nirvana’ or the word ‘God’ that we are talking about the ground of being there is no danger in using these words.  

For Thich Nhat Hanh, “ground of being” is the deepest expression of the reality of divinity.

“O viridissima virga” by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) Performed by Allison Mondel Soprano, Gothic harpist, and director of Eya Medieval Music.

Remarkably, Hildegard of Bingen employs the term “ground of being” 150 years before Meister Eckhart!  And she applies it to Mary, symbol of the divine feminine and the goddess in Christianity.  This makes sense since “ground” signifies down and darkness and journeying into the earth or Gaia and who in Hildegard’s words is “our mother.” 

She composed prayers and songs to Mary:

Mother of all joy, ground of all being, glowing, most green, verdent sprout….Ask for us life.  Ask for us radiant joy.  Ask for us the sweet, delicious ecstasy that is forever yours.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 8, 95f.

And Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, p. 120.

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

Banner Image: As fish swim in water, their bodies made largely of water, creation swims in and embodies the Divine. Photo by Shaun Low on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How amazing is it to you that Hildegard of Bingen called Mary the “ground of being”?  And Eckhart says that “our ground and God’s is the same” and that Thich Nhat Hanh’s favorite name for God is “ground of being”?  What follows from that?  

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century

Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.

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13 thoughts on “Eckhart, Thich Nhat Hanh, Hildegard on God as Ground of Being”

  1. Avatar

    “Ground of Being” connotes to me that God is the Source of All Being and Creation, A Loving Source that is also part of our essence as human beings, our divine nature, and unites us in Loving Oneness with All of God’s on-going co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution in our sacred beautiful Mother Earth/Earth and our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos….

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      William, I’m not sure what you are really asking when you say: “…which God are we defining?” Well, to begin with the Christian God. But then there are so many versions of that God from the Trinitarian God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and omnipresent–to the all to human God of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But then there is the God of Creation Spirituality that not only is both the Divine Feminine and the Sacred Masculine but is “panentheistic”–meaning that All things are in God, and God is in All things. And of course in light of the last few days’ meditations, God is also “the ground of being.” I hope that answers your question.

  2. Avatar

    Ground of Being > God/Mother/Being Itself > The Existence that makes existence possible > Neither God nor we are separated

  3. Avatar

    It is interesting to me that both ‘Mary’ and ‘God’ have been identified as the ground of being. She represents the feminine and God represents the masculine as in ‘God the Father.’ I wonder how this relates to the fact that every fetus in the womb is female for six weeks at which time a male is created by a burst of testosterone. The fact is that at the time of conception we are ONE as in s/he, fe/male.

    1. Avatar


      “The fact is that at the time of conception we are ONE as in s/he, fe/male.”

      This is excellent. It reflects also that we are ONE, at Eucharist where the feminine face of God is revealed each time, because in utero, we each are fed through our mother’s blood, and after we are born we feed at her breast, her body.

      Yeshua readily knew the symbolism hidden within his actions at the Last Supper, as he looked at his mother and all the women present.

      Mary his mother, was herself the first priest, carrying, birthing and feeding Yeshua. Mary of Magdala, and many other women disciples were also present at that Eucharistic ritual; taking, blessing, breaking and distributing. And he said, “Do this in memory of me.” Everyone present at the Last Supper were priests, most especially the women.

  4. Avatar

    What I hear in Hildegards poetic words and music, is an awakened remembrance of the journey of the descent of Spirit into Matter… as the ground of being. Its the creation story of the One to the many and the many to the One. It’s the continous movement of the incarnation of divinity unfolding, evolving, emerging and converging from formlessness into the forms of nature. It’s the cosmic story of Genisis. It’s the inhale and the exhale of God and the Holy Spirit breathing over the waters of the deep void… the womb of the Earth being seeded… the I AM and the I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE, manifesting as the ground of being. It’s the ecstatic agape love… the sacred union and communion of God and Goddess, joyfully delighting in the essence and presence of one another; infinitely expressing the beauty and goodness of their oneness, wholeness, the glorious ground of being… continously coming into existence… as it was, is and ever shall be.

  5. Avatar

    Acts 17:28 quotes an ancient Greek when Paul says, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being'”. The concept of ground of being thus seems to predate our Christian understandings. God as ground means stability, firmness, security to me–not in any material sense but in the sense of trust and confidence in God’s Presence always and everywhere, in me and out of me, beyond any ideas of space or time, infinite and eternal.

  6. Avatar

    “The ground of being”
    For me, it means the Logos (Mystical); the Son’s non-dualistic, All-Creating Eternal, Loving Act. The Source of Creation. Poetry pointing to non-dualistic mystical experience.

  7. Avatar

    It occurs to me that when we talk about God, we assume that everyone has the same picture, that of an old man or any other picture, such as when we talk about Matthew Fox, we all have seen pictures of Matthew Fox. The reality is that no one has been able to produce an actual photo of God. We assign attributes based on our assumptions, and portray God, or Creator, the properties possessed. We mistakenly revert the “image and likeness” to have the Creator to look like a human male, when the only reason for male and female is to provide a way for the “go forth and multiply” to occur. We have tended to overlook the “image and likeness” definition as a being of the same nature, whatever that might be. Possibly another being of the same nature as the Creator. When humans were created or evolved, and the ‘breath of life” breathed into them, perhaps that occurred when the “image and likeness” spirit was placed into humanity as one spirit existing in humanity with the ability to learn to choose love and the desire to join in union with the Creator. So far, we have been struggling with the “love one another, and instead have formed groups, including faiths, that judge or oppose others instead of finding ways to respect and share love.

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