Meister Eckhart: Counsels on Discernment 3

Peace, one and all…

In his third counsel, Meister Eckhart explores the will.

Counsel 3: Of people who have not denied themselves and are full of their own will

People say: ‘O Lord, how much I wish that I stood as well with God, that I had as much devotion and peace in God as others have, I wish that it were so with me!’  Or, ‘I should like to be poor,’ or else, ‘Things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or till I act one way or another.  I must go and live in a strange land, or in a hermitage, or in a cloister’.

In fact, this is all about yourself, and nothing else at all.  This is just self-will, only you do not know it or it does not seem so to you.  There is never any trouble that starts in you that does not come from your own will, whether people see this or not.  We can think what we like, that a man ought to shun one thing or pursue another – places and people and ways of life and environments and undertakings – that is not the trouble, such ways of life or such matters are not what impedes you.  It is what you are in these things that causes the trouble, because in them you do not govern yourself as you should.

Therefore, make a start with yourself, and abandon yourself.  Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, wherever you run to, you will find obstacles and trouble wherever it may be.  People who seek peace in external things – be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation – however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and gives no peace.  People who seek in that way are doing it all wrong; the further they wander, the less they will find what they are seeking.  They go around like someone who has lost his way; the further he goes, the more lost he is.  Then what ought he to do?  He ought to begin by forsaking himself, because then he has forsaken everything.  Truly, if a man renounced a kingdom or the whol world but held on to himself, he would not have renounced anything.  What is more, if a man renounces himself, whatever else he retains, riches or honours or whatever it may be, he has forsaken everything.

About what Saint Peter said: ‘See, Lord, we have forsaken everything’ (Matt. 19:27) – and all he had forsaken was just a net and his little boat – there is a saint who says: ‘If anyone willingly gives up something little, that is not all which he has given up, but he has forsaken everything which worldly men can gain and what they can even long for; for whoever has renounced his own will and himself has renounced everything, as truly as if he had possessed it as his own, to dispose of as he would’.  For what you choose not to long for, you have wholly forsaken and renounced for the love of God.  That is why our Lord said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), that is, in the will.  And no one ought to be in doubt about this; if there were a better form of living, our Lord would have said so, as he also said: ‘Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself’ (Matt. 16:24), as a beginning; everything depends on that.  Take a look at yourself, and whenever you find yourself, deny yourself.  That is the best of all.

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