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How to study Meister Eckhart?


Mahdi Shakibania writes:

I am student of medieval Philosophy in Tehran University (Human Sciences & Cultural Studies Institute) at the level of M. A. Now I am working on my thesis named : An Introduction to Christian Mysticism With regard to Meister Eckhart & Jacob Boehme's thought. My thesis process is as below:

Preface / Introduction / What is mysticism & Christianity? / Background 

Meister Eckhart / Life / Works / View of God / Trinitarian Process / God in creation / Relation of the soul to god / Sin & redemption / Place of Christ / Ethics 

Jacob boehme / Life / Works / Occult Sciences

I will be absolutely glad if I use of your help as an expert in this matter: 
1- What is your idea about my work? 
2- What is the best translation of Eckhart's work in English? 
3- Is there any valuable about his work in the internet (whether first hand or second hand works), please guide me. 
4- Where can I find the manuscript version of ALGK from? 
5- I am searching for a English translation of a book named Meister Eckhart und Seine Junger, by Frantz Jostes 
6- I will be enthusiastic to receive your other recommendation about it.

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Dear Mahdi, 

First of all let me state that I am not an expert on this matter, as you say. This is not an expression of modesty, but just the truth. A truth that should be the starting point of any attempt on writing a book on mysticism, whether Christian or Buddhist or Muslim or whatever sort of mysticism. Even when I will have read all of Meister Eckhart's works and all the relevant sources and all the secondary literature - even then I will not have become an expert. Why?

The word "mysticism", "mystic" and the like comes from the Greek verb myein (closing one's eyes and mouth), from which comes mysterion (mystery) and the like. Mysticism, then, is not some kind of "secretism", of refusing to reveal a truth, but a way of knowing something, in which way one does not know what he knows and can not tell adequately what he knows. 

There is a lot of discussion among the scholars about Plato's so called "secret doctrine". Plato himself, in his 7th epistle, writes about a kind of knowledge, about which no one can speak or write: 

"Yet this much I know-that if the things were written or put into words, it would be done best by me, and that, if they were written badly, I should be the person most pained. Again, if they had appeared to me to admit adequately of writing and exposition, what task in life could I have performed nobler than this, to write what is of great service to mankind and to bring the nature of things into the light for all to see? But I do not think it a good thing for men that there should be a disquisition, as it is called, on this topic-except for some few, who are able with a little teaching to find it out for themselves. As for the rest, it would fill some of them quite illogically with a mistaken feeling of contempt, and others with lofty and vain-glorious expectations, as though they had learnt something high and mighty."

In the Bible there is a commandment that fits perfectly to our current discussion: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you". Think also of the Zen masters that welcomed their students by hitting them or saying some insult to them. This was not to humiliate them. It was just the first lesson: there is nothing to learn here, there is nothing to be taught, you are a fool, who seek the truth like if truth were in whatever place or person or book outside yourself and your place and your book.

An expert is someone that knows perfectly or better than anyone else a specific topic. A mystic is not and can not become an expert and a writer on mysticism can not become an expert, because mystical knowledge can never be perfect and can not be taught to people that don't have it already! It is not "out there" to be found, it is not "out there" to be taught, it is inside and it will remain thus, with the only possibility of offering some hints to persons that you see they can find it out for themselves and in themselves.

Now, before we see your study plan we have first to ask some questions. 

What are you thinking for? What do you want? Whom are you talking to? 

If you write this dissertation in order to become a professor in a university, go on. Read a lot of books, produce an infinity of footnotes, and your goal is achieved provided that you don't have the IQ of a stone. But if you want this dissertation as a personal exersice in order to understand what mysticism can be in your life, then you don't need a complete bibliography, you don't even need to read all of Meister Eckhart's works, but you do need the IQ of a stone! 

You can write a small book, or you can write a large book - Borges wrote a library! - but in any case, in all your pages you need to have just one word, and this is already too much: a deviation, a mistake and a sin! A second or a third word are gates and your town will be conquered, sooner or later, and the swine will trample the holy under their feet. God will forgive your sin, if it is a one-word sin, if your town is an invitation for the conquerors to smash their teeth on it.

Your study plan is a plan that is normally used by conquerors. If you see it fit, go on, but I wouldn't recommend it. It is like defending a town by building stairways. To defend a town you don't need stairways, you need walls - or, rather, you need walls that can be stairways under certain conditions. Best of all is to use walls that would be stairways to you and your friends and that will seem to be stairways to anyone else, so that, you will not only protect your town now, but you will make the swine believe they've conquered it, this way preventing future attacks! Plato, who was a great teacher and lover, built a lot of stairways. They all lead outside the walls, so that the swine would remain calm eating whatever and he could reach his hand to the friends that would also arrive. It's not the same with Meister Eckhart. He was careless and his face is wounded. The swine have eaten large portions of it, so that you will not be able to see him until you heal the wounds. The cause of the wounds is mainly scholasticism and talkativeness.

If I were your tutor, first of all and without second thought, I would erase from your study plan the trinitarian theology and christology. You can not have in your book chapters on these matters. Maybe, and if it is absolutely important in order to clarify other issues, and if you devote lengthy and intense study and prayer and if you fear God, you can attempt one or two theological hints and nothing more. I would also erase the chapters "What is mysticism & Christianity?" and "View of God", or, rather, I would suggest a completely new study plan, or, even better, a possible way for you to build a better study plan yourself. 

Take some of Meister Eckhart's works, forget your studies and study plans, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea or whatever. Think of a question of yours, a problem that you face in your life, like, e.g., "how can I help my friend who feels his life empty", etc. A real problem, an open question that you do have right now. Then read a sermon or a treatise of Meister Eckhart trying to find something useful for you, something that would help you think on your real and present problem. If you won't find anything, then forget about Meister Eckhart. Maybe some other time you will have the chance to use him. If you will find something, then build your study plan around whatever you found. 

If Meister Eckhart couldn't help you in your life, how can your study on him be of any use to our life? If you won't work like this, you will write a useless book - useless both to you and to us - and you will make Meister Eckhart seem an absolutely useless person.

His German sermons and treatises, so far as I know, are translated in English, in a good although not ideal translation, by M.O'C. Walshe. At "Meister Eckhart: The essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense", by Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, you will find a carefully compiled anthology of German and Latin works fairly translated in English. You will find the "Parisian questions and prologues" translated by Armand Maurer. 

These translations represent only a fifth (or less) of Eckhart's works, which are available at Kohlhammer's critical edition in German and Latin. However, I believe they are enough for you to work and write something useful. You will need access to the prototype in order to clarify crucial terms. This means that you need some knowledge of Middle High German and Latin and relevant dictionaries.

"Meister Eckhart und seine jünger", so far as I know, is not translated in English. From secondary bibliography I would recommend maybe Robert Forman's book "Meister Eckhart: mystic as theologian". 

You will find some useful material on the internet too. Start from the Meister Eckhart Site.Add a note!


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Meister Eckhart Site

The Condemnation of Meister Eckhart

Student land

Mysticism in various traditions


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