Tuesday, January 5, 2010

fire and wood

Someone left a volume of the medeival theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart's work in front of my house a while ago, shortly after I had added a book of his work to my unwritten wish list. He was a fascinating and physical writer, and in The Book of Divine Comfort, which I am reading now, he keeps coming back to the fire motif. Here's a sample, which may help warm the chilly.
When fire goes to work on wood, kindling it to burning, the fire first fills the wood with desire for its own dissimilar nature, by taking away from the wood its solidity and coldness, its hardness and watery moisture. Thus the fire makes the wood more and more like itself and still neither can rest, be satisfied or quieted in mere warmth, heat or likeness. The fire begets itself in the wood, giving the wood its own fiery nature, even its own being, so that wood may be identical with the fire and neither more nor less distinct. Before this can happen there is always a smoking, crackling struggle between wood and fire, but when all unlikeness is removed and done away, the fire quiets and soothes the wood. I say further, and it is a fact, that there is a power in nature which hates even a covert likeness between things–especially when it brings out differences and bifurcations.

The distinction between likeness and Oneness, which he hones in this essay, evokes the 3rd Century anarchist Taoist Zhuangzi when he advised "spit out hearing and eyesight...
"Well, then—mind‑nourishment!" said Big Concealment. "You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root—return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos—to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally end of themselves."

Chapter 11, the Zhuangzi (莊子 "[Book of] Master Zhuang"), 3rd century BCE, (11, tr. Burton Watson 1968:122-3)

In this age of manic productivity, Zhuangzi's admonition seems like the most insane challenge possible. Rest in inaction? Yeah, ok.


Old First said...

Wow, the Eckhart quotation is one you'll never forget the rest of your life. I want to be a log in flame.

But I don't get your connection to the Zuangzhi quote, and maybe because I don't get it I don't feel like it includes me.

amarilla said...

Thanks so much for your remarks! I'm not sure I get it either. I hope to work on it and see if my instincts are offering anything here. I think it has to do with the kind of thiurgy in which a person unites with the infinite (the root) by losing a sense of duality or particularity, by renouncing a certain kind of epistemology that attempts to classify things in a static way, by being poured out in St. Augustine's parlance, or relinquishing one's 'point of view' . But I think there's probably better way say this. Thanks so much for caring! I hope to work more on it when I'm lucid and get the chance.