John's Sacramentalism Essay

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Empty Spirits in the East and West

The concept of the "empty spirit" sounds, initially, like a resoundingly more Eastern concept than one pertaining to Western religions. The mysticism of many Eastern religions centers on the essential "nothingness" that is existence, according to many perspectives. An acknowledgement and awareness of the inherent falsehoods of a singular, objective, and separate identity is seen as the paramount need and goal of many Eastern religions, especially many forms of Buddhism -- the achievement of nirvana constitutes a merging with the oneness of the universe and all existence, and this oneness can be seen as largely negating any singularity of existence that might be perceived by individuals. This negation, in some interpretations, reduces the individual and even arguably all of existence to an essential emptiness or nothingness, or a position of ultimate humility.

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Extending this concept in its abstractness and implications, however, makes it clear that Eastern religions do not monopolize the concept of the empty spirit, nor its importance in religious endeavors. The humility and acknowledgement of both the oneness and the nothingness/emptiness that truly comprises each human individual is also essential in many views and perspectives of Western -- i.e. Judeo-Christian -- religions, allowing for a true communication with God and an understanding of God's will. It is only through such humility, emptiness, and lack of personal and selfish desire that a true spirit of communion and connection is facilitated, according to many theologians, and thus the concept of striving for and attaining an empty spirit is highly important in Western religions as well.

TOPIC: Essay on John's Sacramentalism Assignment

When Meister Eckhart states that the most effective prayers and works come from an empty spirit, and that the empty spirit is unattached to and unaffected by anything other than God's will, he is essentially touching on this same essential belief. True prayer and truly powerful action comes not from a sense of personal and individual power, but rather from the connection to the eternal and universal power that can only be fully achieved through a subsuming of personal wills and desires. The empty spirit is a spirit that is ready to be filled -- by the universe of natural and/or supernatural forces and balances, according to the Eastern religions, and by the direct spirit and will of God in the Judeo-Christian religions of the West. This concept of the empty spirit not only applies to both Eastern and Western religions, but can also be understood from all four perspectives or "ways" of religion identified by John F. Haught in his text, What is Religion?

Sacramentalism, which as Haught defines it is primarily concerned with findings mystery and religious experience in human encounters with nature, might at first seem opposed to the idea that the personal conscious drives must be eradicated in order to experience the true mystery of religion. The empty spirit, however, can be seen as making an individual more open to an awareness of the mystery in nature, and the power of encounters with the natural world. By not being fixed to any mode of perception or way of acting, the empty spirit is more able to experience both the joy and the gratitude of all that life and existence has to offer, and thus more fully engage in the sacramental way of religion.

Mysticism, or "the exceptionally vivid intuition of one's union with ultimate reality," as Huaght puts it, also provides many insights into the concept of the empty spirit. The mystic way of perceiving or understanding religion generally deals with actually perceiving that which is usually relegated to the realm of abstraction and/or imagination. For those that are truly powerful in their works and prayers, evidencing their success at emptying their spirits, the sense of oneness with the universe or a true feeling of God's presence within them becomes fully palpable, and has been described as such by Eastern mystics and by Western saints and prophets. There is a physical dimension to the empty spirit, that is, and it is best identified and described through the perspective of mysticism, and the religion and way of engaging with religious thought and action.

Action is actually the last of the ways of religion that Haught identifies, following silence. Both of these perspectives on religion can be applied to an understanding of the empty spirit as a powerful vehicle for prayer. The concept of silence as an approach to religion is directly related to the idea of the empty spirit; both insist on acquiring a freedom from personal desires and purposes as a means of attaining true religious truth. The need to act in order to truly fulfill religious needs and imperatives is also related to this concept, as it is through an emptying of the spirit that the proper actions -- not of selfish desires, but of the universe/God/etc. -- can be instilled within an individual and then be carried out.

Past, Present, and Future Righteousness

Much religious thought and dogma in both the Eastern and Western religions of the world is cyclical in nature; time and/or patterns of events are seen as repeating themselves, either literally or in a more abstract and metaphysical sense, throughout the ages and periods of existence. Dhammapada's assertion that our fundamental identity is the result of our previous existence, choices, and actions, and that suffering will come about as the natural result of acting impurely while joy is the automatic outcome of righteous action, ties into this cyclical concept in several ways. This does not illustrate the concept of direct and literal repetition that exists in many religions, but the notion of automatic effects and the progression and perpetuation of certain conditions and perspectives in and of themselves is highly relevant in both Eastern and Western religions. This notion of actions begetting certain automatic consequences, and of past choices leading to present identities and situation, can also be seen from Haught's four ways of religion.

Aesop's fables provide some direct examples of actions and motives yielding just rewards in a direct and naturally manifested way, which makes them examples of a sacramental understanding of this concept. The hare's arrogance and ultimate laziness in its race with the tortoise, for example, demonstrates in a very direct and meaningful way the manner in which our actions and choices lead to our development and our current situations. Though this might appear to be a highly basic example of the progression of righteousness and reward, it is nonetheless a clear and direct example of the way in which destiny is formed.

Mysticism, or the physical manifestation and experience of certain religious principles and forces, can also be directly related to the concept of reaping the specific effects of one's actions in terms of their righteousness and the creation of one's own present situation through their past actions. The theory of reincarnation that exists in many Eastern religions is a manifestation of this truth supposedly felt by all individual, whether or not they are conscious of it, and by some it is felt so strongly that other lives that take place in the cycle of rebirths are remembered or foreseen in their present existence. In the Judeo-Christian religions of the West, many different theological premises have brought mystical and physical manifestations of this concept to the forefront. From material wealth being a sign of saving grace to the appearance of stigmata as symbols of ongoing sacrifice, repetition and righteousness are often physically manifested in the Western religious tradition.

Silence, Haught's third "way" of religion, relates to the portion of Dhammapada's statement that learning is not necessarily associated with righteousness. A truly righteous individual is often unaware of their righteousness, and certainly does not live in a righteous manner simply in order to be seen as righteous. Instead, when one's natural and unlearned way… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

John's Sacramentalism.  (2010, April 16).  Retrieved September 27, 2021, from

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"John's Sacramentalism."  16 April 2010.  Web.  27 September 2021. <>.

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"John's Sacramentalism."  April 16, 2010.  Accessed September 27, 2021.