Mysticism of the Ground

Numerous references have been employed for this series, in particular articles from the Medieval Mystical Theology, The Journal of The Eckhart Society. But by far the dominant one is Bernard McGinn’s The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, The Crossroad Publishing Company 2001. Most renowned in the field of all things Eckhart, McGinn has also published numerous articles and books as well as being editor of the massive volume, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, also published by crossroads in 2009.

Meister Eckhart has often been associated with the Rhineland Mystics, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hildegard of Bingen and Henry Suso, but according to McGinn “Meister Eckhart was born and did his earliest vernacular preaching in Saxony, far from the Rhine, and the mysticism he initiated spread throughout Germany, so there are limits to the adequacy of this geographical characterization.” While his mysticism emanated from the ranks of the Dominicans, since he was a member of that Order of Preachers, his work is decidedly his own. He founded commanding new forms of mystical speech upon his followers and the populace at large—all those who were present in the assemblies in which he taught and preached. The result was mindboggling and even considered as a dangerous affront to the ecclesiastical powers of the day.

The foundation of his works was based upon the Mysticism of the Ground, or the German grunt.

Grunt can be termed as a “master metaphor,” or what scholars of MHG, following the lead of Hans Blumenberg, have recently spoken of as a Sprengmetapher (“explosive metaphor”) Grunt can be described as an “explosive metaphor” in the sense that it breaks through previous categories of mystical speech to create new ways of presenting a direct encounter with God. When Eckhart says, as he frequently does, “God’s ground and my ground is the same ground;’ he announces a new form of mysticism.

According to scholars of Middle High German, the word grunt is used in four general ways, two concrete and two abstract. Grunt can, first of all, be understood as physical ground, that is, the earth. Grunt can also mean the bottom or lowest side of a body, surface, or structure (Latin: basis!profundum!fundamentum!fundus). (This sense of grunt is etymologically related to abgrunt [ abyssus], originally used to indicate hell conceived of as the bottom of the universe.) Abstractly, grunt is employed to indicate the origin (origo), cause (causa), beginning (principium), reason (ratio), or proof (argumentum) of something. Finally, grunt is employed as what is inmost, hidden, most proper to a being (intimum!abditum!proprium)-that is, its essence (essentia). The semantic richness of this simple German word, especially its spectrum of both concrete and abstract significations, made it a seed ripe for flowering in the age of linguistic creativity that has been spoken of as the kairos of German vernacular in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. (McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, pgs. 38, 39)

Eckhart employs grunt as the “innermost of the soul”, which he spoke metaphorically as “spark,” “castle,” “nobleman,” or as “highest point.” He also employed it as the depths of the Godhead Itself. Eckhart addressed his followers:

Now know, all our perfection and our holiness rests in this: that a person must penetrate and transcend everything created and temporal and all being and go into the ground that has no ground. We pray our dear Lord God that we may become one and indwelling, and may God help us into the same ground. Amen.

Hence, grunt here is employed as the unification of the Soul with God—that essential innermost part that is shared by both.

“If anyone wishes to come into God’s ground and his innermost, he must first come into his own ground and his innermost, for no one can know God who does not first know himself.”

This helps us to see why it is better to speak of the “mysticism of the ground” than the “mysticism of the ground of the soul.” The essential point, as Eckhart often put it, is that “God’s ground and the soul’s ground is one ground.” It is not because either the soul is grounded in its essential reality, or God in his, but because they are both grounded in the same ground in a fused identity that Eckhart and his followers found the language of the ground so rich in meaning. (ibid, pg. 45)

All this can be summarized as “Qui adhaeret Domino, unus spiritus est” (“The one who cleaves to God is one spirit [with him].” Within Unborn Mind Zen this translates as Mens nondum nata, or one who cleaves to the Unborn Mind and Uno spiritu cum nondum nato—AS One spirit in the Unborn. This is the Great Mystical Ground of the Unborn Mind wherein the adept becomes infused with this groundedness. All must begin and end in the Ground of Mind; outside this mystical formulation man is lost in the confines of his own fragile circumstances. Grunt is also indicative of the Unmoving Principle.

As the unmoved source of all movement, grunt is the “place” from which the mystic must learn to live, act, and know. In the ground there can be no distinction between knowing and acting, or theory and practice…

Therefore, as Eckhart puts it in speaking of knowledge, “The more someone knows the root and the kernel and the ground of the Godhead as one, the more he knows all things.” (ibid, pg. 49)

Of course, being an apophatic exegete Eckhart would also insist that this groundedness is also unnamable and radically unknowable between the Godhead and soul.

Rather, he should be so free [ledic=empty] of knowing that he does not know or experience or grasp that God lives in him. For when man was established in God’s everlasting being, there was no different life in him. What was living there was himself. So I say that a man should be set as free of his own knowing as he was when he was not. (Sermon 52)

This “knowing as he was not” pertains to what we will be covering later, and that entails what it means to be a mystical-virgin—imageless and free from all that is not the Godhead, as one was prior to conception; hence entirely void of all images is what it means to be a virgin in the Unborn. All priority is given here to the “hidden Godhead”, or the God beyond God.

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