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Discovering Our Inner Divine Spark

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sermon on the Mount: Week 1

Discovering Our Inner Divine Spark
Monday, January 29, 2018

Jesus was a remarkable teacher of the Wisdom or Perennial Tradition, a philosophy that has been taught “from age to age in culture after culture,” in the words of Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999). Easwaran 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 with Henri Nouwen in the late 1980s. Today I’ll share his description of the Perennial Philosophy so you can see for yourself how East meets West in Wisdom teaching. It’s important to recognize that deep truth is true everywhere and that the historical Jesus was, after all, a teacher from the Near East. Even for those who are not Christian, Jesus’ universal wisdom resonates at the non-dual level. As we look at the Sermon on the Mount, I’ll share a few of Easwaran’s own insights and applications from his reading of the Gospel texts.

In his commentary on Jesus’ Beatitudes [1], Easwaran shares four perennial principles taught by Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) that echo this year’s Daily Meditation theme, “Image and Likeness”:

  • First, there is a “light in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable” [2]: unconditioned, universal, deathless; in religious language, a 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 put it, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [3] In Indian mysticism this divine core is simply called atman, “the Self.”
  • Second, this divine essence can be realized. 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.

Easwaran’s description is so good and so clear, in my opinion. Fr. Henri Nouwen, surely no light-weight Christian, told me about this wise man when most Christians were not yet free to see these very common threads within other faiths.

[1] Eknath Easwaran, Original Goodness: On the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Nilgiri Press: 1996), 8-9.
[2] Meister Eckhart, Sermon 60. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe (Crossroad: 2009), 310.
[3] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Original text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.”

Image credit: Old Horse in the Wasteland (detail), by Charles Cottet, 1898, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan.
How blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:3
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