Letting Go: Meister Eckhart & Overcoming Dualism

Meister Eckhart’s contemplative theology offers an approach to overcoming subject-object dualism that not only informs Martin Heidegger’s work (e.g. Gelassenheit or ‘letting go’) but also finds corollaries within the Soto tradition of Zen Buddhism. Previous discussion of similarities between Heidegger, Meister Eckart, and Zen is relevant, though not required for understanding this episode.

I. Subject-object dualism is faulty thinking, but where do we go from here?

One of the main things that we have stressed in many of the discussions up to now is the faultiness of the subject-object dualistic paradigm as a way of thinking.

Last time, we began to discuss the poetic disposition in Heidegger.  This allows for an openness toward a different way of seeing things. This disposition offers us a possibility of overcoming subject-object dualism. But how might we actually go about achieving this? Looking back into the contemplative tradition offers us some ways of approaching this state of openness.

David Bohm’s comments regarding the pursuit of this type of thinking are also relevant. We must not merely be observant of our own thinking, but also be willing to enter a dialogue with others who are pursuing the same. This he refers to as not merely communication, but communion.

II. Introduction of Meister Eckhart’s notion of ‘spiritual poverty’

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

He is a poor man who wants nothing, knows nothing, and has nothing. Meister Eckhart’s reflections on the opening of the Beatitudes lead him to a description of ‘spiritual poverty.’ I will then take these three points as signposts for our journey. This journey is toward overcoming subject-object dualism and establishing an openness to God. (Or in the more secular terminology of Heidegger an openness to Being.)

III. Meister Eckhart’s first approach to overcome dualism: letting go

The first of our three descriptions given by Meister Eckhart for the “poor man” is that he wants nothing.  For the spiritually poor human being, it is not enough to will to do God’s will. This would merely be an external type of obedience.  Yet as a disposition, it would not be to truly open oneself to God’s will. (Or, if one prefers, to be open to Being, in the sense of overcoming the subject-object distinction in thinking.)

I understand this form of comportment toward God, or toward Being as some of you might prefer, very much in the sense of the letting-go or letting-be. (This we have described previously, using the term of Gelassenheit.) For it is truly to want nothing in the sense of desiring no-thing. This, of course, also means no limiting concepts, including those of the self, of the subject.

This reminds me of Shunryū Suzuki’s description of “Beginner’s Mind,” in his Soto Zen classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Although Suzuki places more emphasis on getting rid of the limiting ideas of the self as opposed to obedience per se, he is really describing the same idea.

IV. Letting go means overcoming dualism while still living in the world

In his talk “On solitude and the attainment of God,” Meister Eckhart makes it clear that this proper state of Being attuned toward God is not an activity to pursue in isolation. One must carry it throughout one’s entire comportment toward others. It is, if we are to speak in Heidegger’s terms, an authentic way of Being-in-the-world as care.


David Bohm interview: “Essential Reality” (forward to 31:40 for excerpt)

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