1260 – c. 1327 • GERMANY
Meister Eckhart was considered the most knowledgeable scholar of his time and was one of the most popular and beloved preachers — people flocked to hear his bold, fresh sermons.
As the Dominican provincial superior for Saxony, he administered a territory stretching from Holland across northern Germany through Bohemia (the western part of the current Czech Republic), through which he constantly traveled — and travel at that time was on foot, alone.
Eckhart was born in the mountain village of Tambach, near the center point of Germany, perhaps to a noble family. When he was 15, he entered a Dominican priory in nearby Erfurt for a nine-year course of study leading to the priesthood. Later he studied in Paris, earning the title Meister (Master) of Theology.
Returning to Erfurt, he was given widening administrative responsibilities. As a spiritual master, he also guided groups of monks and nuns.
Late in his life Eckhart was tried as a heretic, perhaps due to jealousy of his ability and fame. But his reputation and teachings have echoed down the centuries, with resurgent interest today. Meister Eckhart has been called “one of the greatest masters of Western spirituality.”1
In his sermons and writings, Eckhart frequently describes a field deep within the mind that can be experienced when the mind settles inward, beyond thought and perception.
There is something that transcends the created being of the soul, not in contact with created things, which are nothing. . . . It is akin to the nature of deity, it is one in itself, and has naught in common with anything. It is a stumbling-block to many a learned cleric. It is a strange and desert place, and is rather nameless than possessed of a name, and is more unknown than it is known. If you could naught yourself for an instant, indeed I say less than an instant, you would possess all that this is in itself. But as long as you mind yourself or any thing at all, you know no more of God than my mouth knows of color or my eye of taste: so little do you know or discern what God is.2 — Sermon 144
Deep within the soul, Eckhart is saying, beyond anything relative or created, lies something unified (“one in itself”) and divine (“akin to the nature of deity”). So long as the mind is active (“as long as you mind yourself or any thing at all”), you will never experience it. But if your mind could move beyond your ordinary, limited self (“if you could naught yourself for an instant”), then you would experience this field in its totality.
We recognize that Eckhart is describing the inner field of pure consciousness, pure awareness — consciousness in its settled, silent state — as well as the experience of transcending, the process of the mind settling inward, beyond thought and perception, leading to the experience of pure consciousness.
Therefore I say, if a man turns away from self and from all created things, then — to the extent that you do this — you will attain to oneness and blessedness in your soul’s spark, which time and place never touched. . . . [I]t wants to get into its simple ground, into the silent desert into which no distinction ever peeped, of Father, Son or Holy Ghost. In the inmost part, where none is at home, there that light finds satisfaction, and there it is more than it is in itself: for this ground is an impartible stillness, motionless in itself, and all those receive life that live of themselves, being endowed with reason.3 — Sermon 60
Turn the attention within, Eckhart says, and you can pass beyond time and space to the ground of the soul — silent, unified, motionless, the source of all life.
He describes this again in another sermon with these words:
[I]t is in the purest thing that the soul is capable of, in the noblest part, the ground — indeed, in the very essence of the soul which is the soul’s most secret part. There is the silent “middle,” for no creature ever entered there and no image, nor has the soul there either activity or understanding, therefore she is not aware there of any image, whether of herself or of any other creature. . . .
[I]n the soul’s essence there is no activity, for the powers she works with emanate from the ground of being. Yet in that ground is the silent “middle”: here is nothing but rest and celebration. . . .4 — Sermon 1
Eckhart uses many terms to refer to the inner field of pure consciousness. In the passages above he calls it the soul’s spark, the inmost part, the ground, the silent middle. In other sermons he calls it the inmost recess of the spirit, the inmost man, our being and essence, the highest in the soul, the inward spirit. He does not shy from calling it by the most exalted term at his disposal — God. But we should note that Eckhart defines God in a special way: Esse est Deus — God is pure Being.5 This accords with our understanding of pure consciousness, which Maharishi has also referred to as pure Being.
In this next passage, Eckhart explains that when one transcends, consciousness expands and becomes unbounded and we experience a state of pure inner wakefulness:
The soul in which God is to be born must drop away from time and time from her, she must soar aloft and stand gazing into this richness of God’s: there there is breadth without breadth, expanseless expanse, and there the soul knows all things, and knows them perfectly. . . . [This] is wider than the expanse of heaven. . . . In this expanse and in this richness of God’s the soul is aware, there she misses nothing and expects nothing.6 — Sermon 29
In another sermon, Eckhart emphasizes that this inner, transcendental field is an ocean of unbounded creative intelligence and pure bliss.
[T]here is a power in the soul which touches neither time nor flesh, flowing from the spirit, remaining in the spirit, altogether spiritual. In this power, God is ever verdant and flowering in all the joy and all the glory that He is in Himself. There is such heartfelt delight, such inconceivably deep joy as none can fully tell of, for in this power the eternal Father is ever begetting His eternal Son without pause. . . .7 — Sermon 8
Subject of scientific study
We know a great deal today about the experience Meister Eckhart is describing. In the late 1960s it became, for the first time, the subject of serious scientific study. This was because the Transcendental Meditation technique had been making this experience systematically available to people — enabling ordinary men and women to have this experience of transcendence, of consciousness in its settled, silent state. This meant that people could be brought into laboratories and they could elicit the experience at will.
When the first scientific studies were published, we saw that this experience involved profound changes in physiological functioning. During Transcendental Meditation practice, brain functioning becomes more orderly and integrated. Heart rate and breath rate decline, indicating deep physiological rest. The blood’s biochemistry changes — lactate and cortisol decline, for example — indicating deep rest, greater metabolic efficiency, and reduced stress. Even the red blood cells, each a living and breathing entity, downshift to a state of deep rest and repair.
Scientists quickly realized that this state of transcendence represents a fourth major state of consciousness, distinct from the familiar states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Maharishi called this state Transcendental Consciousness, and he described it as the simplest form of human awareness.
Wide-ranging practical benefits
We also know a great deal about the remarkable practical benefits that come from having this experience on a regular basis, twice each day, through the Transcendental Meditation technique. Mental potential increases, with significant growth of intelligence, creativity, field independence, and moral maturity. Health improves, with significant reduction of hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders, as well as reversal of aging and extension of lifespan. The personality grows in a balanced way, in the direction of self-actualization, and interpersonal relationships improve. In cities where just 1% of the population has learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, crime declines and other quality of life indicators improve.
Maharishi explains that with regular experience of Transcendental Consciousness, the fourth state of consciousness, one naturally rises to higher states of consciousness. Maharishi put forward a model of human development that includes seven states of consciousness altogether. Meister Eckhart seemed well aware of these higher levels of human development, as his sermons indicate.
Across time and across the world, countless figures such as Meister Eckhart have described and celebrated the experience of transcendence, the experience of pure consciousness — so simple, so natural, so profound — and now, thanks to Maharishi, so readily available to everyone.
1. Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, Meister Eckhart (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1981), xviii.
2. Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises, trans. and ed. M. O’C. Walshe (Longmead, Shaftsbury, Dorset, Great Britain: Element Books, 1979), 1:144.
3. Sermons & Treatises, 2:105.
4. Sermons & Treatises, 1:3.
5. See, for example, Robert Foreman, Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian (Longmead, Shaftsbury, Dorset, Great Britain: Element Books, 1991), 194.
6. Sermons & Treatises, 1:216–217.
7. Sermons & Treatises, 1:74.