Meister Eckhart on Disinterestedness

Rufus F.

Rufus is a likeable curmudgeon. He has a PhD in History, sang for a decade in a punk band, and recently moved to NYC after nearly two decades in Canada. He wrote the book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (2021).

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17 Responses

  1. Kyle Cupp says:

    I’ve regrettably not read Meister Eckhart, and so I have little on which to anchor my thoughts and believe it’s best to proceed with a caution and a willingness to revise everything I will say. As a religious person, I’m drawn to the ideas of self-emptying, disinterestedness, and silence—I love T.S. Eliot’s lines in Ash Wednesday: “Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled / About the center of the silent Word.” I would, however, stress love as the primary pathway of the spiritual journey. Mine, at least. There’s something about the idea of disinterestedness that seems a little too individualistic for my liking. Of course, if one is making room for God, then one isn’t being truly individualistic, but I wonder if such a process can lead to a sort of spiritual individualism, an openness to God that results in closing doors to others. Maybe I’m simply describing a spiritual preference, and that’s fine; I don’t wish here to judge the spiritual and non-spiritual journeys of others. My own sense of the journey, though, leads me to say that it is best undertaken in love—in community, through an interest in others, through a shared journey and a journey that takes me through others. That path to God is through and with my neighbor (friend and foe).Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      I think the key to mysticism is basically that it is highly individualistic in practice, while aiming at a sort of selflessness.

      It’s crazy that you mention Eliot- when describing the idea of timelessness in Eckhart, what I was thinking specifically was the oft-quoted passage in the first of the Four Quartets that reads:
      “If all time is eternally present
      All time is unredeemable.
      Remaining a perpetual possibility
      Only in a world of speculation.
      What might have been and what has been
      Point to one end, which is always present.”Report

      • Keith E. D. Buhler in reply to Rufus F. says:

        And, of course, from Little Gidding (III):

        “There are three conditions which often look alike
        Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
        Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
        From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
        Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
        Being between two lives—unflowering, between
        The live and the dead nettle.”Report

  2. mark boggs says:

    Despite the assurances of athletes who have been chosen to serve as vehicles for the Divine’s wishes, this

    God as indifferent

    sounds about right to me.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to mark boggs says:

      The Greeks had sort of the same idea about the seers- if you already know everything that’s going to happen, and you have always known everything that’s going to happen, it’s pretty hard not to be, in some sense, indifferent about what happens.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to mark boggs says:

      And, right on cue, Greg Jennings gives the glory to God. All that practice and preparation be damned.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to mark boggs says:

        Suppose that instead he’d thanked his wife for inspiring him and believing in him. Would you feel it necessary to point out that that can’t be the reason he won, because the other team has wives too?Report

        • mark boggs in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I would certainly claim that it wasn’t the reason he won. He won because he worked his ass off, his teammates worked their asses off and the play calling happened to fall the right way at the right time and they took advantage of the breaks they either made for themselves or were handed by the opposition, regardless of what his wife feels.

          Besides, he could actually point to examples of his wife’s support and encouragement. Harder to do with what God has done to actively support his mission.Report

  3. Robert Cheeks says:

    Given that pseudo-Denis’s ‘Theologia Mystica’ annouces the idea of the so-called ‘mystic’ and follows up with the differentiation of natural, dogmatic, and speculative theology only to be defeated in the latter medieval age by those inclinded toward the more worldly/immanent phenomenon found in dogmatism. One might be forgiven in thinking that if the ‘mystics’ had won that debate we’d all know more of ‘space’ and other matters dealing with physics.
    Two schools of thought on the matter appear to prevail; one, is the idea that the mystical phenomenon is of a ‘social construction..’, and two, and the one I prefer, that “God can reveal himself…either by internal or external criteria…”
    Following Carmel Beldon Davis’s seminal study, “Mysticism and Space” where she explicates the ‘mystical space’ as physical, textual, social space with the possiblity of God present both to initiate the experience and to focus it. In something of a stroke of genius Ms. Davis expresses this ‘place/space’ as the ‘literary figure’ of the ‘mise en abime’, a passing into the emptiness(?) of the abyss which includes the necessity of infinite regress (receding circles of space) often encountered in works of art.
    It strikes me that Mr. Eichert’s theme of ‘disinterest’ suggests not only an understanding of the ultimate metaxical experience but the dangers inherent in the possibility of hypostatizing the tension of existence.Report

  4. Rufus F. says:

    Maybe I’m too hard on the Buddhists. If they find the comparisons fruitful, more power to them. Here’s an interesting Buddhist discussion of Eckhart and detachment:

  5. Jon Rowe says:

    Thanks for the tip; I’ve been meaning to get to Eckhart for some time.

    Question: Did ME teach any kind of meditation exercise to achieve the end of detachment?

    “The basic problem I have with the essay, Eckhart only addresses in passing: who in the world could actually reach this sustained and total state of disinterest? Eckhart answers: ‘no one living in such times as these.’ And this is a Dominican theologian in the fourteenth century! What chance would any of us have, in a time in which it often seems hard to focus on one thing, much less on no things?”

    I’ve come across a number of folks, mainly Eastern, but a few self proclaimed “Judeo-Christians” who claim to have achieved this state. Though I think this may be braggadocio or hyperbole.

    One group claims you know you are at this state when you no longer feel any anger, fear, anxiety or irritations, no matter WHAT happens. One fellow claimed he could come home find a man raping his wife and he — a lawful gun owner — would righteously execute the man in defense of his wife and not feel angry or upset.

    Likewise once having achieved this state, you are immune to post traumatic stress disorder, when such horrific things happen to you.

    They call this state being “objective.” And believe it to be freedom from original sin. Anger, as an emotion, (NOT, for instance, righteous indignation as a stance — indeed that was the point of the raping the wife example — he would take the UTMOST righteous indignation at the man, but not get angry with him) as it were, is always a sin.Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    Here’s a really bad translation of the essay:

    They’ve translated abgescheidenheit as “sanctification” which makes the essay much blander and doesn’t really get the right meaning, in my opinion.Report

  7. Thurman Hart says:

    I think some of the meaning gets lost in the term “disinterest” though that’s probably as good a word in English as can be found. It’s easier than saying “the quality of having been judged to legally not be joined in any fashion.”

    But while that’s just a fun linguistic argument, the meat of the argument is that Eckhart’s theories are pretty well directly against the teachings of Jesus. Far from urging that people become disinterested, Jesus taught that one should take a lot of concern about the people around them – humbling one’s self, as it were. I think his work could be called many things, and it’s very interesting, but it isn’t Christian anything.Report