God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and Śaṅkar

Hugh Nicholson

in Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199772865
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199897315 | DOI:

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and Śaṅkar

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This chapter explores a parallel between Eckhart's concept of God and Śhaṅkara's concept of brahman. The relation between the personal God and the impersonal Godhead in Eckhart's theology parallels the relation between the brahman with qualities (saguna) and the brahman without qualities (nirguna) in Śhaṅkara's Vedanta. Developing Otto's argument for a “theistic substructure” in Śhaṅkara's mysticism, this chapter argues that the relation between the two forms of Brahman, like that between God and Godhead in Eckhart, is better understood in dialectical, rather than hierarchical terms. Śhaṅkara's thought, in other words, no less than Eckhart's, can be understood in terms of Michael Sell's theory of apophatic language, that is, as an “unsaying” that preserves a necessary relation with what is denied. Understanding the personal and impersonal aspects of Brahman in this way as a “double-paradigm” challenges the tendentious orientalist characterization of brahman as a lifeless abstraction.

Keywords: God; Godhead; brahman; saguna; nirguna; Michael Sell; apophatic language; double paradigm; Eckhart; Śhaṅkara

Chapter.  10867 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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