An Uncreated Spark

The Perennial Tradition

An Uncreated Spark
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as a translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. I was personally introduced to him during a visit from Henri Nouwen in the late 1980s. He encouraged me to spread his teaching, which I have not done enough until now. Easwaran writes:

We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this “uncreated spark in the soul” remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.

What did [Meister Eckhart (1260–1328)] teach? Essentially, four principles that [Gottfried] Leibnitz would later call the Perennial Philosophy, because they have been taught from age to age in culture after culture:

  • First, there is a “light in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable” [1]: unconditioned, universal, deathless; in religious language, a divine core of personality which cannot be separated from God. Eckhart is precise: this is not what the English language calls the “soul,” but some essence in the soul that lies at the very center of consciousness. As Saint Catherine of Genoa [1447–1510] put it, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [2] In Indian mysticism this divine core is called simply atman, “the Self.”
  • Second, this divine essence can be It is not an abstraction, and it need not—Eckhart would say must not—remain hidden under the covering of our everyday personality. It can and should be discovered, so that its presence becomes a reality in daily life.
  • Third, this discovery is life’s real and highest goal. Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name on history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.
  • Last, when we realize this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life. . . .

A mystic is one who not only espouses these principles of the Perennial Philosophy but lives them, whose every action reflects the wisdom and selfless love that are the hallmark of one who has made this supreme discovery. Such a person has made the divine a reality in every moment of life, and that reality shines through whatever he or she may do or say—and that is the real test. . . . [A mystic is marked by] an unbroken awareness of the presence of God in all creatures. The signs are clear: unfailing compassion, fearlessness, equanimity, and the unshakable knowledge, based on direct, personal experience, that all the treasures and pleasures of this world together are worth nothing if one has not found the uncreated light at the center of the soul. [3]

Under the guidance of Living School faculty member James Finley, our students study the brilliant sermons of the medieval Dominican priest and mystic Meister Eckhart. This excerpt is a wonderful example of perennial wisdom at work. A modern Indian scholar, translator, and spiritual teacher highlighting the words of a late-medieval Catholic priest and a mid-Renaissance married woman? It surely seems to me to be a spirit-led confluence of ideas.

References:
[1] Meister Eckhart, Sermon 60. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed. Maurice O’C. Walshe (Crossroad: 2009), 310.

[2] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Original text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.”

[3] Adapted from Eknath Easwaran, Original Goodness (Nilgiri Press: 1989, 1996), 8-10.

Image credit: A Moment of Prayer (detail), Frederick Arthur Bridgeman, 1877, Private Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In every historical epoch and in every cultural tradition, there are those who practice a form of contemplation that puts them in a position to receive the gift of an unfiltered divine encounter. —James Danaher
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