- Meister Eckhart: An Asian Perspective by Hee-Sung Keel
A deft and profound presentation of the mysticism of Meister Eckhart (d. 1328) from a comparative perspective, Meister Eckhart: An Asian Perspective seeks to overcome static dichotomies. Throughout the book, Hee-Sung Keel outlines how the medieval German mystic helps subvert binaries between philosophy and theology, transcendence and immanence, Christianity and the great Asian religious traditions—binaries that the author identifies as the root cause for the fundamental spiritual poverty that afflicts Western thought today. Most important, the author posits that Eckhart could serve as a nucleus for the creative encounter between Buddhism and Christianity because of the great consonance between Eckhart’s mystical theology and “Asian spirituality.”1 A main aim of the author is to showcase the thought and life world of Eckhart through the lens of “Asian religious traditions in general” (x). Throughout the book, he covers such central topics as God and the world, God and the soul, detachment, breakthrough, and the birth and the life of the Son of God. Originally an introduction of Eckhart’s thought for a Korean audience, the book has been reworked for an English-language audience by integrating comparative material. Although the book is not primarily written for specialists in the field of Eckhart studies but aimed “to stimulate interreligious dialogue and strengthen our vision of the spiritual unity of humankind” (xii), both novices and experts in the study of mysticism and comparative theology would benefit from reading and wrestling with this book. While to the person familiar with Eckhart’s own writings and with Eckhart scholarship, the book may not present much original information, the author’s reading of the material is still novel with respect to the comparative context of this book. Thus, the real contribution of the book is in the comparative aspect and in highlighting resonances between Eckhart and “Asian” thought.
Demonstrating a deep and masterful understanding of Eckhart’s work, Keel invites the reader on a fascinating journey through it. He conveys convincingly his position that Eckhart’s thought can help foster a spiritual unity of humankind in today’s world. He isolates two fruitful points of convergence between Eckhart’s and Asian (particularly Zen Buddhist) thought: Eckhart’s distinction between the Godhead and God and his fundamental belief in the unity of God and creation (12–15). [End Page 213] Since the author argues that “the crucial dividing line between all of the major lines of Asian thought and Christianity lies in whether or not they admit the essential divinity of human nature and accordingly the possibility of a perfect divine-human unity” (18), he believes that Eckhart can bring together the thought worlds of Christianity and Asian religions to such an extent that he even characterizes Eckhart’s theology as “‘Asian Christianity’” (19, 49). Eckhart’s “Asian Christianity” could, Keel maintains, offer a much-needed theological reorientation within Christianity that moves it away from its dualistic character that constitutes a stumbling block within interreligious dialogue (21).
In the volume, Keel identifies Eckhart’s “mystical atheism” and understanding of creation as particularly helpful alternatives for contemporary spirituality and as antidotes for a religiosity that funds the ongoing ecocide today. He maintains that Eckhart’s radical notion of detachment, which dismantles our different idolatrous constructions of “God” (forcefully articulated in Eckhart’s prayers that God may free us from God) that have served as accessories in innumerable crimes and acts of violence, moves the discourse beyond the conventional impasse between theism and atheism.
Keel marks the doctrine of creation as the central issue in the dialogue between Western Christianity and Asian religious traditions since it affects all the other dimensions of theology, anthropology, and soteriology. He argues that the one-sided emphasis on transcendence in classical Christian theism has contributed to the “desacralization of the world by severing the organic link between God and the world” (2). He contends that the traditional Christian concept of creation, which views creation as contingent and external to God and maps an ontological rupture between...