迷生寂亂 Ignorance begets tranquility and turmoil
悟無好惡 With enlightenment there is no good and evil
一切二邊 Dividing one thing into two sides
妄自斟酌 Is an absurdity born of discrimination
夢幻虚華 Dreams, illusions, flowers in the air
何勞把捉 Why try to grasp them?
得失是非 Gain and loss, right and wrong
一時放卻 Banish them once and for all!
All things are unworthy of attachment. – Capala Sutra
30. Question: Is the Great Way near or far?
Answer: It is like a mirage in the heat—neither near nor far. An image of a face in a mirror is also neither near nor far. Visions of flowers, needles, etc. produced by henbane* are also neither near nor far. If you say that they are near, how is it that, seeking for them in the ten directions, one cannot grasp them? If you say they are far, they pass clearly and distinctly before the eyes. The treatise says: Near and yet not capable of being seen: this is the nature of the ten thousand things.
*This passage from Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind is the source of the famous line, “Dreams, illusions, flowers in the air; Why try to grasp them?” We know from Bodhidharma that “Flowers in the air” refers to drug-induced hallucinations.
Let not thy mind be disturbed by external objects
Nor let it go astray among thine own ideas
Be free from attachments and fears
This is the way to overcome the sufferings of birth and death
It is written: “They have become rich in all virtues” (Cor. 1:5). Truly that can never happen unless we become poor in all things. He who would receive all things must first give up all things. This is fair dealing and an even exchange, as I said at one time. Therefore, for God to be able to give us himself and all things in free possession he must first and for all time take away all that we possess. Indeed, God would not that we should possess even so much as a speck of dust in the eye; for of all his gifts, gifts of nature and of grace, he never gave any but that we might possess nothing of our own; for such possession he has not granted in any way, not to his mother, to any man or any creature. And in order to teach us this or to prepare us for this he frequently takes away from us both physical and spiritual things. Not even honour shall be ours but shall belong to him alone. We are to have what we have as if it were loaned to us and not given, without possession, whether it be body or soul, senses, powers, outward goods or honours, friends, relations, houses, castles, or anything at all.
What is God’s purpose that he insists so much on this? He wishes himself to be our sole and perfect possession. His chief delight and enjoyment consist of this, and the more exclusively he can be our own the greater his joy. Thus the more things we keep for ourselves the less we have his love; the less things we own the more we shall own him and his. When our Lord went to speak of things that are blessed he crowned them all with poverty of spirit, and that shows that all blessings and perfection begin with being poor in spirit. Indeed that is the only foundation on which any good may rest; otherwise it is neither this nor that.
When we get rid of outward things, in return God shall give us all that heaven contains—indeed, heaven and all its powers, and all that flows out of God. Whatever the saints and angels have shall be ours as much as theirs, far more than any thing is mine. In return for my going out of myself for his sake, God will be mine entirely with all that he is and can do, as much mine as his, no more and no less.
Do you want to know what a really poor person is like? To be poor in spirit is to do without all unnecessary things. That person who sat naked in his tub said to the mighty Alexander, who had all the world under his feet: “I am a greater Lord than you are, for I have despised more than you have possessed. What you have felt so proud to own I consider too little even to despise.”1 He is far more blessed who does without things because he does not need them, than he who owns everything because he needs it all; but that man is best who can do without because he needs nothing. Therefore, he who can do without the most and has the most disregard for things has given up the most.
It seems a great deed if a man gives up a thousand marks of gold for God’s sake and builds hermitages and monasteries and feeds all the poor; that would be a great deed. But he would be far more blessed who should despise all of that for God’s sake.2 That man would possesses the kingdom of heaven who could give up all things, even those which God had not given him. (Blakney pp. 39-40, “Talks of Instruction”) (Walshe Vol. III, 53-54)
1 Diogenes (411-313), a sage and renunciate who made an abandoned tub his home. Alexander, who had a great admiration for sages, came to Diogenes and asked him if there was anything that he could offer him, and the sage asked Alexander to kindly stop blocking his sunlight. Eckhart seems to have confused this exchange with an encounter between a messenger sent by Alexander and an Indian yogi named Dandamis.
Shortly after Alexander had arrived in Taxila in northern India, he sent a messenger, Onesikritos, to summon Dandamis. “Hail to thee, O teacher of Brahmins!” he said to the sage. “The son of the mighty God Zeus, being Alexander who is the Sovereign Lord of all men, asks you to go to him. If you comply, he will reward you with great gifts, but if you refuse, he will cut off your head!” The yogi answered Onesikritos, “Know this, that the gifts Alexander promises are to me things of no value. Should Alexander cut off my head, he cannot destroy my soul. Let Alexander terrify with threats those who crave wealth and who fear death, for the Brahmins neither love gold nor fear death. Go, then, and tell Alexander this: Dandamis has no need of anything that you have, and therefore will not go to you; and if you want anything from Dandamis, come you to him.” (Yogananda)
2 In Sermon Forty Eckhart said, “that man would give far more who could regard a thousand marks as nothing.”
Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row.
“Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind” (https://inscribedonthebelievingmind.blog/2018/09/16/bodhidharma-5)
Jorgensen, John A. (1979). The Earliest Text of Ch’an Buddhism: The Long Scroll. The Australian National University (p. 298).
M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises Volume III. UK: Element Books Limited.
Yogananda, Paramhansa (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: The Philosophical Library. (download)