Eternal Birth

It is within Eckhart’s exact art of preaching and the “ascesis of attentive listening” that the transcendent awareness of the Divine Birth takes place, and the mystical ground is self-realized; incidentally this is the same act as proclaiming and receiving the Buddhadharma. Eckhart planned particular sermons for the meaning of Christ’s birth. This was initiated to coincide with the cycle of the liturgical season of Christmas. Sermon 101 starts by citing Wisdom 18:14- 15, the “Introit, or opening chant, for the mass of the Sunday within the octave of Christmas.”

Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature…That it should happen in me is what matters.

Rather than taking up the traditional motif of the three births of Christ (from the Father in eternity, from Mary in time, and in the hearts of the faithful today), a characteristic theme of Christmas preaching before and after him, Eckhart explodes the distinction of births by claiming that the eternal birth of the Word from the Father is actually “now born in time, in human nature.” (McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, pg. 55)

There is a saying of the wise man, “When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.” This sermon is about that Word.

The Word (logos) is representative of the indwelling Christ seed; for Unborn Mind Zen this is referenced as the Bodhichild.

To paraphrase: the silencing of the “medium;’ that is, anything between God and the soul, makes possible the birth of the hidden Word in the ground. (ibid)

Therefore the soul in which this birth is to take place must keep absolutely pure and must live in noble fashion, quite collected and turned entirely inward, not running out through the five senses into the multiplicity of creatures, but all in turned and collected and in the purest part -there is His place; He disdains anything less….

‘But sir where is the silence, and where is the place where the word is spoken?’ – As I said just now, it 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.

This perfectly aligns with our own teachings on the mystical child. In Unborn Mind Tathagatagarbha Zen the noblest part—the ground—is within the womb of that self-same Tathagatagarbha. Only in silence and in the stillness of that womb can this Bodhi-miracle occur—this is always an imageless affair. This is the Word Itself. The adept need do nothing but passively await the implantation of this majestic bodhiseed. This also is concurrent with Dionysian negative theology of the Dark Principle.

The “hiddenness” of the Word introduces some characteristic reflections on negative theology. Eckhart first paraphrases texts from Dionysius about God’s lack of all images and the divine “hidden silent darkness;’ and then frames another rhetorical question from the audience: “What does God do without images in the ground and the essence?” His answer is that he has no answer, because everything we know by ordinary consciousness comes through images (bilde), but this is not how God is attained. Knowing God-or more precisely, striving to know God-is a constant pursuit of what is by definition unattainable. As he puts it:

This not-knowing draws her into amazement and keeps her on the hunt, for she clearly recognizes “that he is;’ but she does not know “what” or “how” he is. When someone knows the causes of things, he tires of them and seeks something else to uncover and to know, complaining and always protesting, because knowing has no resting point. Therefore, the unknown -knowing [i.e., docta igno rantia] keeps the soul constant and still on the hunt. (ibid, pg. 58)

As John of the Cross enunciates, all this takes place In Darkness and secure.”

No creature can constitute your blessedness, nor can it be your perfection here on earth, for the perfection of this life – which is the sum of all the virtues – is followed by the perfection of the life to come. Therefore you have to be and dwell in the essence and in the ground, and there God will touch you with His simple essence without the intervention of any image.

Hence, the incessant withdrawal of all thingness. This is a permanent imageless affair. This passage of the sermon also is a mark against Matthew Fox’s claim that Eckhart’s theology was essentially creation-based.

Eckhart concludes the sermon by invoking Christ’s teaching about abandoning all things (Matt. 10:37) as confirmation of the need for giving up all externals to retreat into the inner ground where God enters without image in absolute stillness. (ibid)

Sermon 102, which was delivered on the feast of the Epiphany, takes as its theme text from the Gospel that explicitly mentions the location of this birth

“Where is he who is born?” Now I say as I have often said before, that this eternal birth occurs in the soul precisely as it does in eternity, no more and no less, for it is one birth, and this birth occurs in the essence and ground of the soul…

…in this birth you will share in the divine influx and all its gifts. This cannot be received by creatures in which God’s image is not found, for the soul’s image appertains especially to this eternal birth, which happens truly and especially in the soul, being begotten of the Father in the soul’s ground and innermost recesses, into which no image ever shone or (soul- )power1 peeped.

This birth only takes place in the depths of the Godhead, void of all images. This nicely coincides with one of Tozen’s teachings, The Womb of Light, which illustrates the nature of the bodhichild’s birth:

The ignorant points and says that you are a Buddha or that all sentient beings are the Buddha-nature. But that is not so. Buddha Gotama pointed straight at you and tried to convey that all of you have the possibility and POTENTIALITY to, like his mother Mayadeva discover the seed of the Buddha that co-exists with you and by focusing your attention [right view, right concentration, right effort] on this spiritual seed, thus nourishing its birth.

For it is so, that those who forget their false selves and notion of gender for a while and chooses to participate in such a birth, will be awed by the huge light-emanation that will occur when their true self is born as a bodhisattva. It is a moment which is not comparable to anything in this world….

The only thing to focus on here is to allow the light to flow steadily from this child while it grows. The moment will arise when the awakened spiritual child cuts off the cord, to its false “twin”, thereby partaking on the great path which is destined for all similar bodhisattvas before they fully recollect their Buddhahood.

Thus, the once suffering and deluded dark self has given life to the luminous true self or spiritual child [bodhisattva] as the endless process of countless meaningless births has cessated.

So, the focus here is that you decide whether or not you dare or wish to become such a birth-giver. (Remember that only what is unborn is able to conceive such a birth – hence the saying that the Unborn is the Birth-giver or creator of all things).

As Eckhart explicitly said, “this birth does not take place in sequential time”, but in the all-encompassing wonder of that NOW moment—incessantly giving birth in the here and now as such that YOU are a birth-giver of that Child of Light as countless others will, if they are clothed with that imageless hue. His sermon thus concludes:

In this way your unknowing is not a lack but your chief perfection, and your suffering your highest activity. And so in this way you must cast aside all your deeds and silence your faculties, if you really wish to experience this birth in you. If you would find the newborn king, you must outstrip and abandon all else that you might find. That we may outstrip and cast behind us all things unpleasing to the newborn king, may He help us who became a human child in order that we might become the children of God. Amen.

Quite an Epiphany indeed!

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