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Martin Buber's Journey to Presence$

Phil Huston

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780823227396

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823227396.001.0001

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The One Thing Needful

The One Thing Needful

(p.57) 3 The One Thing Needful
Martin Buber's Journey to Presence

Phil Huston

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Buber, after taking five years away from his normal activities, studied Hasidic literature but retained his interest in mystical tradition. Buber was able to give addresses on various elements of Judaism that concerned “inaccurate” statements, which are vital in understanding Buber's position on the nature and presence of God. Buber gives focus to a certain unity of experiences and how “Inward” commotions disrupt the achievement of this unity. Through applying the phenomenon of projection, this chapter establishes how Buber challenges the common understanding of a transcendent union with God. This chapter also takes on Buber's interest on Oriental studies, concentrating on how Tao refers to the process of realizing the presence of God and how this God relies also on the human spirit. Lastly, Buber analyzes Judaism and how this, as a spiritual process, becomes a struggle in realizing the sought-for unity.

Keywords:   God, Judaism, presence, nature, inward commotions, phenomenon of projection, unity, union, Hasidism



Between 1904, when he completed his dissertation on Cusa and Boehme, and 1909, Buber withdrew from his activity in the Zionist party and stopped writing articles and giving speeches. Having read the testament of Rabbi Israel Baal-Shem in Zevaat Ribesh, Buber took five years away from his normal activities and immersed himself in gathering and studying Hasidic literature.1 During this period he published two books on Hasidism: Die Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman (Tales of Rabbi Nachman) and Die Legende des Baal-Shem (The Legend of the Baal-Shem).

Buber retained his early interest in the mystical tradition. He collected the mystical confessions of people from many different cultures and mentioned a plan for a work on European mystics in a letter to Landauer on 10 February 1903. Buber envisaged that this work would comprise a collection of mystical writings by German, Slavic, and Judaic mystics. In fact, when published in 1909, Ecstatic Confessions also included Indian, Dutch, Italian, French, and Chinese ecstatic confessions. For the publication of this book, Buber wrote an introductory essay called “Ecstasy and Confession.” In it, Buber gives his interpretation of the mystical experience. He later repudiated his treatment of unity in this introduction in favor of his discussion of unity in Daniel: (p.58) Dialogues on Realisation. The introductory essay therefore affords usan insight into Buber's early understanding of the mystic's experience and his conception of God.

Buber also repudiated his essay, “The Teaching of the Tao,” which introduced his 1909 translation of selected Talks and Parables of Chuang-Tzu.2 This essay deals with the oriental teaching that recognizes “the one thing needful”: that the world's inner destiny, that is, unity, depends on the action of the human person for its realization. In this teaching, Buber found the elemental drive toward unity, which he was already familiar with in a religious form, in the mystical tradition.

Between 1909 and 1914, Buber gave a series of influential addresses on various elements of Judaism. These addresses are significant for our discussion because they contain what Buber later termed “inexact” or indeed “inaccurate” expressions. In the “Preface” to the 1923 edition, written when Buber had formulated his mature philosophy and published I and Thou, he “clarified” many of these expressions. Indeed, in editions subsequent to 1923, some sections of the addresses were changed or omitted. They remain, however, a guide to Buber's early position on the presence of God. These addresses and others were collected in the book, On Judaism.3 The early addresses are Buber's communications to young Jewish intellectuals and Zionists before and during the First World War. The first three addresses were given to the Prague Bar Kochba Union, an influential Zionist association; subsequent addresses were delivered to a similar group in Berlin.

These writings are crucial to an understanding of Buber's position on the nature and presence of God. Together with Daniel: Dialogues on Realisation, which I will examine in the next chapter, they representthe period between the early writings on Nietzsche, Boehme, and Cusa and the events during the war that led to Buber's conversion to presence and dialogue. They also each contain Buber's leitmotiv: “the one thing that is needful.” Buber drew this saying from the gospel of Luke (10:42) and interpreted it as expressing “Judaism's soul,”which “knows that all meaning-contents are null and void unless they grow into a unified one, and that in all of life this alone matters: to have such unity.”4 The key elements of Buber's mature philosophy of dialogue are in the context from which this saying is drawn. Buber, at this stage of his development, overlooks them in his desire for unity. It appears as if the only manner in which the loneliness, isolation, and separation that result from individuation, and especially from Buber's experience (p.59) of the absence of his mother, can be overcome is through unity, but this is not so. It is through love, not a consuming love in which one is absorbed by the other being, but rather a love in which there is mutual delight in and respect for the unique otherness of each being. Love implies relation. Absence is overcome by presence, not by unity. The unity Buber desires and enjoys is such that it removes the mystic from the everyday commotion of the world and unites all in the self. Both characteristics dismiss the importance of the presence of oneself and the relation to another being. There are many stepping-stones on Buber's way to discovering “the one thing that is needful.” Each of these appears as a resting place at the time to Buber. Each is repudiated until he finally discovers presence: “Being true to the being in which and before which I am placed is the one thing that is needful.”5

In examining Buber's interpretation of Boehme's writings, I have established that at this stage of his development, Buber does not acknowledge the existence of either a transcendent or an immanent God. Nevertheless, Buber accepts an eternal will that is grounded in human beings and that enables them to realize “God.” This God is identified with the human being in creative living experiences. The human being is therefore deified. Buber's roots were in the German philosophical tradition, especially in the writings of Boehme, Cusa, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. His interest in Hasidism led to his wish to know his own Judaic tradition. In the period in which the texts, which are the subject of this chapter, are written, Buber examines and writes on mysticism in different cultures. From these writings, with the knowledge of Buber's early position, we can extract the fundamental form of Buber's conception of God. This form, we will discover, also underlies his understanding of God in Judaism.

Part I: Ecstatic Confessions: The Heart of Mysticism

Plato, in the Myth of the Cave, describes the confusion and disorientation experienced by the person who returns to the cave to communicate what he has seen to his fellow prisoners. Buber's interest is in the ecstatic person who attempts to return from the experience of boundless unity and tries to express the ineffable in language. Buber writes that in these confessions “the power of the experience, the will to utter the ineffable, and the vox humana have created a memorable unity.”6 He (p.60) thought that confessions that bore witness to these elements were worthy of inclusion. He is not concerned with explanation, but with the unclassifiable aspect of ecstasy. Buber appreciates that the ecstatic individual may be explained in terms of psychology, physiology, or pathology; however, he is more concerned with what is beyond explanation, the individual's experience: “We are listening to the human being speak of the soul and of the soul's ineffable mystery.”7

In this collection of ecstatic confessions, Buber has recognized the equivalent experiences of human beings across time and cultures. He is collecting utterances of the human voice. These utterances are the attempts at articulating experiences that are ineffable. The experiences are of a descent into the depth of the psyche that may be expressed as an ascent to the vision of being, as in Parmenides' case. The movement is in search of the ground of reality. The depth that is ineffable, that is beyond articulation, was experienced by the Hellenic thinkers, Heraclitus, Aeschylus, and Plato.8 Voegelin comments that the experience of the depth of the soul does not add a substantive content to our experiences of God, man, the world, and society, of existential tension, and of participation. The experience, however, does afford an insight into the process of reality from which the equivalent experiences and the articulating symbols emerge. As a philosopher, Buber is interested in these insights into the process of reality. As a person who has experienced ecstatic states, he is interested in communicating his understanding of the experience.

What is the essential character of this ecstatic experience for theistic mystics? In his book, Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics, Joseph Maréchal remarks that serious enquirers have reached an agreement to distinguish between the essential and the inessential in mysticism.9 For Maréchal, the core of the mystical experience is the direct feeling of God's presence, or the intuition of God as present. He concludes: “We are thus compelled … to take as our centre of perspective the culminating point of these states—that is, the feeling of the immediate presence of a Transcendent Being.”10 Another understanding of this experience is expressed by Lonergan: “When finally the mystic withdraws into the ultima solitudo, he drops the constructs of culture and the whole complicated mass of mediating operations to return to a new, mediated immediacy of his subjectivity reaching for God.”11 Voegelin analyzes the classic experience of the differentiation of the human psyche and the (p.61) symbols created to articulate its structure. The unrest caused by ignorance of the ground and meaning of existence leads to the search for the ground: “The consciousness of questioning unrest in a state of ignorance becomes luminous to itself as a movement in the psyche toward the ground that is present in the psyche as its mover.”12 Mysticism is a human experience and is an element in all major religious traditions. Evelyn Underhill summarizes the general nature of the experience: “Mysticism, in its pure form, is the science of ultimates, the science of union with the Absolute, and nothing else, and the mystic is the person who attains to this union.”13 Parmenides' experience is considered to be mystical by Voegelin. Nous was the name given by Parmenides to the human being's faculty of ascending to the vision of being, and logos was the name given to the faculty of analyzing the content of the vision. Voegelin writes of Parmenides' ascent: “the experience was so intense that it tended toward the identification of nous and being, of noein and einai [B3]; in the rapture of the vision the knower and the known wouldfuse into the one true reality (aletheia), only to be separated again when the logos became active in exploring the experience and in finding suitable language symbols for its expression.”14

There is no doubt that Buber had ecstatic experiences. He states this clearly in the autobiographical fragment “Conversion.” What happens in the ecstatic experience is of the greatest importance to him. These experiences were the high points of his life at the time: “Over there now lay the accustomed existence with its affairs, but here illumination and ecstasy and rapture held, without time or sequence.”15 The hours of religious ecstasy he considered “true life,” and everyday life he regarded as an “obscuring of the true life.”16 Instead of an integration of life, there was a fleeing from everyday existence into “the detached feeling of unity of being, elevated above life.”17 I am not investigating the experiences themselves, but rather Buber's interpretation of them. This will give us an insight into his concept of God at the time.


At the beginning of his introduction, Buber writes: “The commotion of our human life, which lets in everything, all the light and all the music, all the mad pranks of thought and all the fullness of memory and the fullness of expectation, is closed only to one thing: unity.”18 This commotion or “hustle and bustle” (Getriebes) mixes together an experience (p.62) of pure astonishment with thousands of memories; it mixes “the quietest suffering” with “the hissing of a thousand questions.” It builds a “vortex of objects and a vortex of feelings” that we experience throughout our entire lives, but we still do not achieve unity. Buber claims that the commotion prevents us from reaching a unity of the world or of the I: “I, the world, we—no, I the world am what is moved out of reach, what cannot be grasped, what cannot be experienced.”19 Note that Buber is pointing toward the experience of “I the world’” that he identified as his own personal experience in his essay on Boehme: “in man the whole creation lies; but heaven and earth with all beings, even God himself lies in the human.”20


However, the commotion is only “the outside of an unknown Inward which is the most living thing of all.” Buber adds that this “Inward” can “withhold the experience of itself from knowledge,” which he describes as a “daughter of the commotion,” but it cannot withhold itself from the “vibrant and self-liberating soul.” The “Inward” cannot be known, but it is present and can be felt in the soul. Boehme uses the expression “the inward” to indicate man's true nature. He states that man “is created both out of time and eternity, out of the Being of all beings, and made an image of the divine manifestation.”21 Therefore, man should not seek his fulfilment elsewhere but locate it in himself: “the place of the eternal paradise is hidden in this world, in the inward ground; but manifest in the inward man, in which God's power and virtue worketh.”22

Buber argues that the “Inward” cannot be known, but it is present and can be felt in the soul. He claims that it is the soul that has “tensed itself utterly to burst through the commotion and escape from it that receives the grace of unity.”23 In this concentration of itself to make the transition from the commotion, the soul is “self-liberating.” It is, therefore, the whole being of the person that is ready for the experience of unity, and the experience is then brought about through grace.”24 Is Buber implying here that this grace of unity, which the person receives, is beyond the control of the person? Where or what is its source? Buber explains that this “grace catches fire” through another being: the experience is attained through the soul meeting someone or something else; the examples given are a loved human being or a wild landscape of (p.63) heaped-up stones. In the meeting with another being, the spark is kindled, and the soul experiences unity. When this has happened, the soul no longer experiences anything particular, such as the hand of the beloved or the appearance of the rocks; it experiences “unity, the world: itself.” The relation of the person to the beloved or to the stone as separate beings therefore no longer exists. The particular beings are not experienced as other than the person, but are “psychologised” as elements in an immanent experience of unity: all the powers of the soul “come into play, all its powers unified and felt as one, and there in the midst of the powers lives and radiates the beloved human being, the contemplated stone: the soul experiences the unity of the I, and in this unity the unity of I and the world; no longer a ‘content,’ but what is infinitely more than any content.”25 This experience is not concerned with the other person or being as a distinct and unique entity, but only uses him or her as a catalyst of the experience of the unity of “I and the world.” There is a return to the “unity of powers,” out of which the forms have come. This unity is wholly present in each person, and Buber had already identified it as “God in nature” in the essay on Boehme. The striving to return to this “unity of powers” is a striving for the “original state” (Urzustand). It is a cosmic striving; it is innate in nature and is one aspect of the original divine twofold will, proposed by Boehme, the other being the striving toward individuation.26 The striving for unity attempts to overcome individuation and all multiplicity.


However, this situation of dependence on other beings, which, as we have discovered, Buber did not find fulfilling in Boehme's conception, is not the goal here either. This is because it is not a complete escape from the commotion. According to Buber, it is not yet complete freedom for the soul, as it is dependent on another being, and this being remains subject to the commotion. Any incident, such as a thought that transforms the face of the beloved or a cloud that transforms the face of the rock, can spoil the unity “so that it stands once again abandoned and enslaved in the vortex of feelings and objects.”27 Buber is not satisfied with a unity that requires another being as catalyst; he is seeking a unity that is totally beyond the commotion. The unity required is one (p.64) in which the soul is independent and is not affected by anybody or anything outside itself. He claims that there is such an experience; this is the experience of the depth of the psyche:

But there is an experience which grows in the soul out of the soul itself, without contact and without restraint, in naked oneness. It comes into being and completes itself beyond the commotion, free of the other, inaccessible to the other. It needs no nourishment, and no poison can touch it. The soul which stands in it stands in itself, has itself, experiences itself—boundlessly. It experiences itself as a unity, no longer because it has surrendered itself wholly to a thing of the world, gathered itself wholly in a thing of the world, but because it has submerged itself entirely in itself, has plunged down to the very ground of itself, is kernel and husk, sun and eye, carouser and drink, at once. This most inward of all experiences is what the Greeks call ek-stasis, a stepping out.28

This experience is a stepping out of the bonds of the principium individuationis. Buber explicitly writes that the other has no part in this ecstatic experience. It is beyond the “commotion,” free of any contact or interference by any other being. It needs no nourishment, so it is not rooted or grounded in any other being. It is entirely within the self. Yet the soul experiences itself “boundlessly,” or without limits (schrankenlos), explains Buber. This boundlessness may be interpreted in a number of ways: as identical with the boundless (apeiron) of Anaximander; as the absence of differentiation; as the identification with the infinite, as, for example, in Spinoza's concept of the unique substance; and as the Hellenic understanding of the depth of the psyche as unbounded.

If there are no boundaries, there is no differentiation of subject and object. There is no awareness of oneself as oneself, and no presence to oneself differentiated from the presence of another to oneself. One could debate whether Buber is correct in saying that the soul experiences itself. All that can be said is that the person has an undifferentiated experience in which there is consciousness, but without either consciousness of self as a limited, finite person, or of any other being. This is confirmed by Buber's later comment: “For he who in the act or event of absorption is sunk beneath the realm of all multiplicity that holds sway in the soul cannot experience the cessation of multiplicity except as unity itself. That is, he experiences the cessation of his own (p.65) multiplicity as the cessation of mutuality, as revealed or fulfilled absence of otherness.”29 If there is no experience of otherness, neither is there any consciousness of self as this particular, limited person. Mauthner, who was a friend of Buber's, as already mentioned, attempts to express this absence of any sense of self in describing an ecstatic experience:

In the highest mystical ecstasy the Ego [das Ich] experiences that it has become God…. Why not? Shall I quarrel about words? For a decade I have been teaching: The feeling of the Ego [das Ichgefühl] is a delusion. The unity of the individual is a delusion.If I am not me, yet exist, then I am entitled to believe that all other beings only appear to be individuals; they are not different from me; I am one with them; they and I are one. Are these mere philosophical word sequences? Games of language? No. What I can experience [erleben] is no longer mere language. What I can experience is real. And I can experience, for short hours, that I no longer know anything about the principium individuationis, that there ceases to be a difference between the world and myself. “That I became God.” Why not?30

Gilson argues that this type of experience is “a downward exstasis, wherein finite acts of existing are merely felt in themselves, wholly unrelated to their essences and therefore deprived of all intelligibility.”31 Gilson explains that there is “no concept there, nor even judgement, but the bare experiencing of an is which is not yet a being.”32 This experience, however, of an “is which is not yet a being” represents for Buber an experience of God because God is the “unity of an irrational dynamic potentiality, not the unity of a total absolute substance” and “a groundless eternal will which is silent and in itself without essence.”33 As we have already discovered, Buber believes that God is wholly present in each being. When the person experiences God, the phenomenal self and the unlimited self are united and the experience is “boundless.” It is an experience of “nothingness” or “all” because there is no consciousness of differentiation.34 Gilson remarks that “such an experience is but too real, yet it merely proves that essence and purpose are part and parcel of actual being. Should they be removed, be it for a split second, what is left no longer makes sense: it is that whose only essence and meaning is to have neither essence nor meaning.”35

A similar experience is expressed in the tract, “Sister Katrei,” which is ascribed to Meister Eckhart. This example is used by Schopenhauer (p.66) and included by Buber in the “Supplement” to Ecstatic Confessions. This experience drives the mystic to express to her confessor: “My lord, rejoice with me, I have become God.”36 Schopenhauer comments: “Theism, calculated with reference to the capacity of the crowd, places the primary source of existence outside us as an object. All mysticism… draw[s] this source gradually back into ourselves as the subject, and the adept at last recognizes with wonder and delight that he himself is it.”37 Schopenhauer argues that the “pantheistic consciousness, essential to all mysticism,” appears in Christianity in a secondary way, as a “consequence of the giving up of all willing, as union with God.”38 The danger of the pantheistic understanding in mysticism is very real because of the experienced union with God. Voegelin even refers to the exuberant joy of touching immortality present in Aristotle's Metaphysics. The danger present in the “momentary sameness with the divine” was later recognized and exploited by Hegel.39

Buber indicates that the soul experiences itself, not as a limited, finite person, but rather as, in Kantian terms, the “thing-in-itself.” He is pointing toward the kernel of the self, the unlimited, which unites with the husk, that is, the self as a finite, limited being. Buber claims that the soul “has plunged down to the very ground of itself,” that is, to the kernel. This ground of itself is in itself, as Buber claims that the experience grows out of itself. However, if the soul has plunged down to the very ground of itself, it was in a different “place” prior to this “plunge.” There are now three elements of the soul: the “Inward,” that is, the ground of motion, the part that is moved, and the motion itself. In this description, there is an understanding similar to Voegelin's analysis of the classic experience as “a movement in the psyche toward the ground that is present in the psyche as its mover.”40 Buber's ground, or the “Inward,” is itself groundless and is the moving force; there is a movement in the soul toward this ground. Is this ground, however, understood as the manifestation of the transcendent God, the unmoved mover, and therefore as one pole in the tension experienced by the seeker of the ground? Or is it understood as the purely immanent Ungrund, as Boehme's groundless Godhead that is primal, preexistential, and beyond the categories of human thinking? Or is it understood as Plato's anima mundi, the cosmic spirit?41 In order to come to a conclusion regarding Buber's concept of God, we must proceed to the next step in his essay.


In this step, Buber attempts to undermine the common understanding of the experience as a union with a God who is both immanent and transcendent. This goal is achieved through an application of the phenomenon of projection. Buber writes that if, “as people say,” religion has developed, “then one may regard as an essential stage of this process the change which the conception of God has undergone.”42 He then explains his understanding of these changes: “At first human beings seem to have explained with the name God primarily that which they did not understand about the world; then, however, oftener and oftener, that which they did not understand about themselves. Thus ecstasy—that which humans could least understand about themselves—became God's highest gift.”43 Buber echoes Feuerbach in his understanding of this phenomenon of projection. The idea of a transcendent God outside oneself and beyond this cosmos is therefore a human construct, according to Buber. It is merely a projection of the mystery discovered in human life. According to Buber, this phenomenon is demonstrated in its purest form in ecstasy, which is the most inward experience and therefore is placed the furthest away. Buber remarks that for the believer of the Christian age this experience can be placed only at the poles of his cosmos—it must be ascribed to God or the devil. He gives the example of Jeanne Cambry, who did not know whether to ascribe her experience to a divine or diabolic power.

However, Buber adds, it was not only “in those times” that people divided life between the divine and the diabolic because they “did not know the power and breadth of the human and failed to grasp the inwardness of ecstasy”44 In other words, if the full power of the human were known, this ecstatic experience would not need to be ascribed to any power other than oneself. It was through ignorance that it was ascribed to what was thought of as the divine or the diabolic. Buber claims that there is almost no ecstatic who has not interpreted his I-experience as God-experience (and however they tried to make God inward, scarcely one took him wholly into the I as the unity of the I).45 Buber is implying that he understands the unity of the I to be God. The person therefore becomes God in this experience, the human being is deified. The divine pole of the tension experienced in the psyche is transferred to the divinized psyche.

The need to interpret ecstasy as God-experience, when God is a transcendent Being who is also immanent, seems to Buber to be grounded (p.68) in the nature of the ecstatic experience itself. He considers that in this experience, there is nothing that points inward or outward: “whoever experiences the oneness of I and the world knows nothing of I and the world.”46 Schopenhauer expresses a similar understanding when he says that the mystic finds himself as the eternal and only being. He explains that if we remember the essential “immanence of our knowledge and of all knowledge … it becomes easy to explain that all the mysticsof all religions ultimately arrive at a kind of ecstasy. In this, each and every kind of knowledge together with its fundamental form, object and subject, entirely ceases.”47 There is no knowledge based on the distinction of subject and object because there is no self-consciousness or consciousness of any other being. Buber explains this point by drawing on the Upanishads: “just as a man embraced by a woman he loves has no consciousness of what is outside or inside, so the mind embraced by the primal self, has no consciousness of what is outside or inside.”48 This is a parable of unification. Here Buber explicitly understands the experience to be unification with the primal self (das Urselbst), or as expressed in the Upanishads: Brahman, the Self of being, is identical with Atman, the self of the human person.49 The equivalent of Brahman in Boehme's writings is the Ungrundand in Anaximander the apeiron (boundless). The person experiences oneness with the primal self, which Buber also calls the “universal mind,” “the world-I,” or the “absolute.”

This experience of identification with the primal self is the soul's ineffable mystery that cannot be communicated. “But” adds Buber, “the human being cannot help placing even what is most subjective and free, once it has been lived, in the concatenation of the commotion, and forging for that which, timeless and fetterless as eternity, passed through the soul, a little past (the cause) and a little future (the effect).”50 It becomes more difficult to locate the experience in the ordinary commotion when it is more authentic and unbound, thus it is “more natural and irrefutable” to ascribe it “to one who is above the world and outside all bonds.” Buber suggests that this error is understandable when one compares the ordinary experiences of a human being with the experience of ecstasy:

The human being who trudges along day by day in the functions of bodiliness and unfreedom receives in ecstasy a revelation of freedom. One who knows only differentiated experiences—the (p.69) experience of meaning, of thought, of will, connected with one another, yet still separate in this separation and conscious— comes to know an undifferentiated experience: the experience of the I. One who always feels and knows only particulars about himself suddenly finds himself under the storm cloud of a force, a superabundance, an infinity, in which even the most primal security, the barrier between the self and the other, has foundered. One cannot burden the general run of occurrences with this experience; one does not dare to lay it upon his own poor I, of which he does not suspect that it carries the world-I; so one hangs it on God.51

This “hanging it on God” is the purest form of projection. Buber is suggesting that projecting the content of the experience onto a nonexistent God is simply another instance of the tendency to explain with the name God that which is not understood about oneself. It is a useful idea, but is not a reality. The reality to Buber is the I that bears in itself the world-I. The cosmic spirit is thus in the soul of man. The phenomenon mentioned above—“that someone who has experienced his I announces to himself and others that he has experienced God”—Buber suggests, must appear arbitrary to many people. To those who do not believe in God, it seems “the arbitrariness of a superfluous theism (or impure pantheism); to the pious it seems the arbitrariness of presumption and blasphemy.”52

Buber is advocating a pure pantheism because he understands God not as a transcendent and infinite being, but rather as the cosmic spirit. The cosmic spirit is Boehme's Ungrund made immanent. In the experience of unity, there is only one infinite being. This is an identification of oneself as God. In the context of theistic mysticism, the nature of the experience of union with God was expressed by John of the Cross when he wrote that although “all the things of both God and the soul become one in participant transformation, and the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Yet truly, its being (even though transformed) is naturally as distinct from God's as it were before, just as the window, although illumined by the ray, has being distinct from the ray's.”53 This distinction of two beings is essential in the understanding of the experience. It points toward self-transcendence, in which there is a movement of the self to encounter the other, God or other people, rather than ego-transcendence in which the movement is into the deeper psychic resources (p.70) of the self.54 Ego-transcendence considers what is experienced to be an exclusive and all-absorbing unity of one's own self.55 This understanding renders absolute the human element of the relation to the ground of the soul.56 Gregson's explanation of the psychologically reductionist tendency present in some of Jung's disciples clarifies the issue:

The “self” as the locus of the indefinite resources of the human psyche is the most powerful personal image of the Infinite … the “self,” however is not the Infinite…. The Jungian tradition offers stern warnings about the inflation which not infrequently occurs when the resources of the self come into consciousness … at this point, however, Jungians, such as Edinger, succumb to inflation themselves. They become so fascinated by the God image of the “self” and by the process of coming to psychic wholeness—the “ego” coming to terms with the “self”—that they effectively interpret that very process to be salvation. The intentionality of the “self” beyond the “self,” particularly in terms of an Absolute beyond the “self” is truncated.57

There is no doubt that intentionality is truncated in Buber's interpretation of the mystical experience. There is no intending of anything; there is no distinction between oneself and any other being; there is no relation to anything as there is no experience of anything outside of the inflated self. As we will discover, Buber's understanding of unity leads to absolute solitude.


After the descent from the ecstatic experience, what one thinks, feels, and dreams about God is added to the experience. These additions create “around the experience of unity a multiform mystery.”58 Many “forms and sounds” gather around “the fire” in the soul; this fire is the sole trace of the experience. The mystic, in whom “the Word burns,” must speak and use images, dreams, and visions to attempt to say the “unsayable,” and she does not lie in doing so. These ways of explaining the experience are grasped by the ecstatic as she tries to understand herself. This desire to understand which was extinguished in the experience is reawakened after it. Although the person uses images and words, she realizes that she “is not saying the experience, not the ground, not the unity,” and she would like to stop the saying, but (p.71) cannot. Buber is stating that the ecstatic experience is independent of the thoughts, feelings, and dreams one may have of God; these are outside the experience because they belong to the commotion and are used only as a means to understand the experience. It is not, therefore, through an insight into the experience itself that one comes to have these thoughts, feelings, or dreams about God. One adds these human constructs around the center of the experience of unity and creates a “multiform mystery.”

For Buber, union with God is the elementary notion in this constructed “mystery.” Rarely, he adds, is the I proclaimed that is one with the universe. It is found only in the most ancient Indian sayings and in rare utterances of some individuals. One of the ancient Indian sayings, an instruction from the Mahabharatam, is also included in the supplement to Buber's book. It explains the “turning inward which brings about a hidden existence.”59

As fire fed with kindling wood, blazes up with a great brightness, so the great Atman [self] blazes up when the sense organs are suppressed.

When one contemplates all beings in one's heart with a calm self, then he serves as his own light, and from the hidden he arrives at the highest of all hidden things….

This terrible, unfathomable vast ocean called delusion—one must put it aside, annihilate it, and bring the immortal world within one to its awakening….

Desire, anger, fear, greed, guile, and untruth, all these he throws off through subjection of the sense organs, although they are difficult to throw off….

Then, free of all frailties, one contemplates that highest thing, enclosing its Manas [here: the will] in one's own Manas and seeing the Self in one's own self. Omniscient in all beings, he finds the Self in himself by transforming himself into one or into many, now here, now there.

Then he sees through the forms completely… then he is creator and orderer, the Lord, the omnipresent, then he will radiate as the heart of all creatures, the great Atman….60

In this saying, the blaze represents the ascent of the self into union with the Self. Here all the frailties of the senses are overcome, and one can contemplate the highest thing. In this contemplation, one finds that the highest thing brings its powers into one's own, and one sees the Self in (p.72) one's own self. The highest thing, God, goes into the I, and is not fragmented, but the entire Self is in one's self. This is equivalent to Buber's interpretation of the process in Boehme's writings where God, the creative force, goes into nature and is “not compartmentalised [abtheilig] but is everywhere whole, and where he reveals himself, there he is wholly revealed.”61 As Buber claimed in the essay on Boehme, one then recognizes or knows the world because one has it all in oneself. The ecstatic is the creator and lord, omniscient and omnipresent. He or she is God. The original Godhead in Boehme's conception, which was an irrational essence-less unity unable to know itself, has become the ecstatic as the unity of all beings. Buber stresses the absolute solitude of this unity when he writes:

But not merely in comparison to his early plurality has the one who has experienced ecstasy become a unity. One's unity is not relative, not limited by the other; it is limitless, for it is the unity of I and the world. One's unity is solitude, absolute solitude: the solitude of that which is without limits. One contains the other, the others in oneself, in one's unity: as world; but one no longer has others outside oneself, no longer has any communion with them or anything in common with them.62

The ecstatic experience, according to Buber, “is unity, solitude, uniqueness.” It cannot be translated into the language of common experience. “It is the abyss that cannot be fathomed: the unsayable.”63 The confession of the ecstatic may seem arbitrary. However, it is the expression of one who tries to match what is innermost and most personal with the given language of human beings: it is a “battle of the irrational with the rational.” It arises out of the enormous contradiction between the inner experience (Erlebnis) and the commotion, out of which the mystic ascends only to fall back into it.64


Ecstasy is the one experience that is ineffable, according to Buber, since the human being has become a unity in which all powers have come together into one force. It is no longer merely a “bundle,” but has become a fire in which “all sparks have blazed together into one flame.”65 There is no duality, such as subject and object, present in this unity; it is removed from the multiplicity of ordinary living and thus (p.73) separated from language. Language is tied to the multiplicity; it is the expression of knowledge of nearness or distance, sensation or idea. Knowledge is the work of the commotion: “in its greatest miracles a gigantic co-ordinate system of the mind. But the experience of ecstasy is not a knowing.”66

Rather than speak of the experience, one may try to stay silent. Silence, Buber argues, is a “symbolon which protects us from the gods and angels of the commotion, our guard against its aberrations, our purification against its impurity.”67 Referring to the Apathanatismos—the mystic's guide to the highest initiation—Buber suggests that when one keeps silent about the experience, it is a star that illuminates the paths of the traveler.68 However, if the experience is spoken of, it is “thrown down under the tread of the market.” Buber then adds that “when we are quiet to the Lord, he makes his dwelling with us; we say Lord, Lord and we have lost him.” How are we to understand this phrase of Buber's in which he seems to suggest that there is a relation to another being in the ecstatic experience? Who is this Lord who makes his dwelling in us? Is Buber using a biblical phrase to indicate that one destroys the experience if one introduces the duality of subject and object by speaking of it? Is he saying that in the unity of the experience, one becomes Lord as in the Indian saying quoted above? He is at the very least suggesting that something happens in the experience, which no words are adequate to explain. Nevertheless, he continues: “We have to speak. And our speech builds a heaven over us, over us and the others a vault of heaven: poetry, love, future. But one thing is not beneath this heaven: the one thing that is needful.”69 As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, Buber is aiming at “the one thing needful.” What can be said of it if it is above this vault constructed by speech?

The apparent contradiction introduced into the essay by Buber's use of the phrase, “when we are quiet to the Lord, he makes his dwelling with us,” indicates Buber's hesitation concerning the interpretation of the ecstatic experience. This hesitation is implicit in the recognition of the experience as the illuminating star that remains with one on one's journey and is also evident in his use of the phrase, “the Word,” which burns in the mystic after an ecstatic experience and makes him attempt to speak of the experience:

For the Word burns in him. Ecstasy is dead, stabbed in the back by Time, which will not be mocked; but dying, it has flung the (p.74) Word into him, and the Word burns in him. And he speaks, speaks, he cannot be silent, the flame in the Word drives him, he knows that he cannot say it, yet he tries over and over again until his soul is exhausted to death and the Word leaves him.70

Who speaks this Word? What is it?71 Is there a connection between the Word that is flung into the mystic and burns in him and the Lord who makes his dwelling in him? Both happen to the person during the experience according to Buber. Earlier in the essay, Buber draws attention to the Jewish sage, Hai Gaon, who rejects a popular opinion of what happens in the experience when he speaks of the adept who has surmounted the ten rungs of mystical ascent: “Then heaven opens up before him—not in order that he may ascend into it, but something happens in his heart, whereby he enters into the contemplation of things divine.”72 What is this “something” that happens? This question cannot be answered because one is not present to oneself in the experience. There is, however, “another, most silent speech, which wants not to describe existence, but only to communicate it.”73 Buber adds that this speech is not guilty of a betrayal because “it says only that something is.” Is this a recognition by Buber of some thing or force other than the unity of the I in the ecstatic experience? Bernard de Clairvaux provides an example of this type of speech. Buber reports that once Bernard halted during a sermon and spoke softly, “without boasting and without being humble, it is no artistic device, rather memory has come over him, and speech has broken in his mouth: Fateor et mihi adventasse verbum: I confess that the Word has approached me too.” Buber addsthat Bernard continued speaking and expressed “how he felt that it was there, how he recalls its having been there, how he sensed that it would come, yet did not feel its coming and going. How it could not enter through any sense, being non-sensible, and how it could not have originated in him, being perfect.”74 Buber then quotes Bernard: “When I gazed out, I found it beyond all that was outside me; when I looked in, it was further in than my most inward being. And I recognized that what I had read was true: that we live and move and are in it; but he is blest in whom it lives, and who is moved by it.”75 In a personal admission, Buber then writes: “I believe his confession. I feel that once, at a time when he could not speak as today, he had hours when he too suffered the divine.”

If one suffers the divine during an ecstatic experience, one is not identical with the divine. It is clear from this saying of Bernard that it (p.75) is something that happens to one. The mystic is passive, and, as Bernard says, the divine, which is equated with the Word, comes and goes and is therefore beyond one's control. However, Bernard felt the presence of this other and sensed its coming. This agrees with the essential element in mysticism mentioned by Maréchal. Buber admires this speech of Bernard because he “does not fling down the Word as fodder for the words, but bears witness for the Word with his silence as a martyr bears witness with his blood.” Buber returns to the importance of the “Word” in the next essay that I will consider: “The Teaching of the Tao.” Is there a contradiction between Buber's approval of Bernard's confession on the one hand and his interpretation of the ecstatic experience on the other hand? I think there is, and that this hesitation in Buber is expressed again in the final section of the essay.

In the final paragraphs of the introduction, Buber suggests that for some people who have experienced unity, their testimony may go beyond Bernard's “silent speech.” The mystic's “will to say is not mere impotence and stammering; it is also might and mastery.” The mystic wants to “tow the timeless into the harbor of time” and to “make the unity without multiplicity into the unity of all multiplicity.”76 Buber, though, takes a step further in asking whether the great myths are merely symbols of the mystic's experience. Whereas he considers that positive religion subdues the fullness of existence, myth is the “expression of the fullness of existence, its image, its sign; it drinks incessantly from the gushing fountains of life.”77 Buber defines myth as a tale of a real event in the material world, conceived as a divine, an absolute event.78 Therefore, Buber is asking whether the mystic's experience of unity finds expression as a divine, absolute event in the telling of a myth. Buber, in mentioning the great myths, draws on his familiarity with Boehme:

The thought of the great myth awakens, a thought which runs through all the times of humanity: the myth of unity which becomes plurality because it wants to gaze and be gazed at, to know and be known, to love and be loved, and which, while itself remaining a unity, embraces itself as multiplicity; of the I which begets a Thou; of the primal self which transforms itself into the world, of the divinity which transforms itself into God. Is the myth proclaimed by Vedas and Upanishads, Midrash and Kabbala, Plato and Jesus, not the symbol of what the ecstatic has experienced?79

(p.76) The masters of all times, as Buber calls those who created and recreated the myth, drew on their own experiences of unity. For these masters who have also passed out of unity into multiplicity, ecstasy was not an overwhelming experience, but “an ingathering and deep upwelling and a familiarity with the ground, the Word did not lie upon them like a driving conflagration; it lay upon them like the hand of a father.”80 It guided them to insert the experience into their lives and to create from it a new poem of the primal myth. Buber ends this essay with questions concerning the myth:

But is myth a phantasm? Is it not a revelation of the ultimate reality of being? Is not the experience of the ecstatic a symbol of the primal experience of the universal mind [world-spirit]? Are not both a living, inner experience?

We listen to our inmost selves—and we do not know which sea we hear murmuring.81

Although these questions imply Buber's pantheist beliefs, he nevertheless broaches a theme that is present in his earlier writings and becomes crucial in his later writings: the connection of the individual with the universal. This is both a philosophic and religious theme. One experiences the reality of one's own wholeness of being, and one is connected through the fact of one's being with the whole of being. The “myths” proclaimed by Vedas and Upanishads, Midrash and Kabbala, Plato and Jesus concern the question of the One and the Many and the One in the Many. The human person is the place of the coincidence of opposites. Both the experience of particular being and that of universal Being are located in the person. At this time, Buber is concerned with these experiences as internal to the self, and it is the goal of the person to raise the self to unity with the Self. (This element of realization by the person is clarified further in the next essay that I will examine and particularly in Daniel, which is a set of five dialogues on realization.) Rather than participation by the particular being in the universal being, Buber identifies the particular self with all reality. The I is the absolute. Later he will recognize the relatedness between oneself and all reality. This relatedness is the basic insight in his philosophical understanding of the fundamental connection between the I-Thou relation to God and the I-Thou relation to one's fellow human beings. It is the key to the dialogical reality.

Buber's pantheism is also evident in The Legend of the Baal-Shem that was written in 1907. In a footnote, Hans Kohn identifies the (p.77) changes in later editions that repudiated the pantheistic elements present in the first edition.82 For example, the sentence “God is the essence of all things” was replaced by “God is in each thing as its essence.” In the old edition, it is granted to the human being everywhere and at any time to “unite himself with God”; in the new edition, this mystical formulation is replaced by to “receive the divine.” The change is made explicit when “pantheistic” is replaced by “panentheistic.” However, at the end of his introduction to this book, The Legend of the Baal-Shem, Buber distinguished myth and legend and recognized that dialogical relationship is present in the latter:

The legend is the myth of the calling. In it the original personality of myth is divided. In pure myth there is no division of essential being. It knows multiplicity but not duality. Even the hero only stands on another rung than that of the god, not over against him: they are not the I and Thou. The hero has a mission but not a call. He ascends but he does not become transformed. The god of pure myth does not call, he begets; he sends forth the one whom he begets, the hero. The god of legend calls forth the son of man— the prophet, the holy man.

The legend is the myth of I and Thou, of the caller and the called, the finite which enters into the infinite and the infinite which has need of the finite.83

This is the essential element in the tales of the Baal-Shem—that there is a calling. The kernel of the call is “Where are you?” The answer is presence: “Here I am.”84 Although Buber recognizes here the essential difference between the partners and the independence of man, he has not yet realized the full implications of the call or answer.


In our examination of his essay, we have found that Buber did not believe in a mystical union with a transcendent, infinite God. He maintains the essential position in the essay on Boehme—that there is only an innerworldly divinity. This divinity is the “unity of powers” and the creative force present in the “kernel” of each person. This force is the “unmoved mover” with which the finite self is united in ecstasy. Neither did Buber accept that the ecstatic experience should be “hung” on God and explained as a gift of God due to our lack of understanding. (p.78) Ecstasy, according to Buber, is an experience of the unity of the I in which consciousness of differentiation and individuation is lost. The unity of the I then appears as the unity of all. The oneness of the I is understood as the I or the mind being embraced by the primal self or universal mind. Thus Buber accepts a movement of ego-transcendence, but not one of self-transcendence, in which there would be a meeting or encounter with another being.

However, I have drawn attention to a hesitation on Buber's part. The experiences of some of the mystics suggest to him that there is something more involved in an ecstatic experience. “Something is.” This something has an impact on the person during the ecstatic experience and he or she has no control over it: the person “suffers the divine.” This “suffering” is similar to the primitive man's experience of “that which effects,” that is, Mana, which Buber mentions in I and Thou. The mystical experience results in the receipt of a “Word” is given in a “speech” that differs from the speech of the community. It is prior to, or beyond, speech. Is this “Word” an address to the person, that he or she then wants to transmit to others?85 It is the call that is expressed in the legend.

Buber claimed that the possibility of a God with whom one can have a relation was a question for him, especially since he began his study of Hasidism.86 In the ecstatic experience as understood by Buber, one loses consciousness of the principium individuationis, and one is therefore conscious neither of any other being nor of oneself as oneself. One simply is. One does not intend anything else beyond oneself. However, one cannot have a relation to another being if one is not also conscious of oneself. There is a contradiction between Buber's interpretation of the ecstatic experience and his interest in the possibility of a God with whom one can have a relation. This contradiction is the result of his fusion of the atheistic mysticism of his time with his knowledge of theistic writings such as those of Eckhart, Cusa, Boehme, and the Hasidic tradition. In studying the latter, Buber no doubt became aware of the similarities to the earlier writings that he had studied. If he was questioning the possibility of a God with whom one can have a relation in his study of Hasidism, he could not with integrity close himself to this question in other writings. Is this the reason for the hesitation evident in the recognition of Bernard's awareness that “something is,” which echoes Parmenides' great outburst? The hesitation is a fruitful one, as it leads Buber to the discovery of the importance of presence.

(p.79) Part II: “The Teaching of the Tao”

Buber's interest in the Oriental responses to the question of the one and the many continued throughout his life. He appreciated the importance of the third century B.C., in which great forces shaped China and India, Egypt and Asia Minor. These forces are disclosed in the extant remnants of their creations: “the Shi-Ching and the Vedas, the Pyramid manuscript and the Gilgamesh epos.”87 Buber considered that a clearer understanding of the time is possible if the men who arose in the Orient during the period of the Golden Age of Greece are included: “the Jewish prophets as well as the thinkers of the Upanishads, Zoroaster, and Lao-tse.” The significance of the unity that is attained in all great Asiatic religions and ideologies, according to Buber, is the understanding that “the unified world must not only be conceived, it must be realised.”

This task of realization becomes increasingly emphasized in his writings, especially in Daniel. Buber's insight is that the ultimate truth, which is lacking in the West, is “that the world's inner destiny is, to an unfathomable degree, dependent upon the deed of the doer. It is this truth that the ‘way’ of Oriental teaching connotes: the truth of the word, ‘One thing above all is needed.’ ”88 The Oriental teachings claim that the authentic life is “the fundamental metaphysical principle, not derived from nor reducible to anything else; they proclaim the way.”89 This principle commands different responses: in the Vedânta, it means to tear the web of appearance and recognize one's true self as identical with the self of the world; one realizes the true, unified world in the allencompassing solitude of his soul. In Taoism, the way, Tao, is perceived as the single, primal principle in which both the counteracting principles of light and dark are grounded. This is the Tao that the wise person realizes on earth through his or her life, not by interfering with, but by actualizing in this world the cosmic intent of oneness through the significance of both his action and his nonaction. Alternatively, the Persian of the Avesta may direct the response toward an unreserved championing of the light, which by opposing the obstructive, evil principle, serves the breaking through of unity into the divided world.90 In these three ways, unity is realized.

In the teaching of the Tao, Buber finds a path that has the same dynamic in the realization of unity as the primal myth that he mentioned at the end of “Ecstasy and Confession.” It is the myth of the way of (p.80) unity in the world. It is the same way of unity that becomes plurality in order to be known and loved that concerned Boehme and Western mysticism, but in a very different context. According to Buber, the teaching demands no particular religious beliefs, but is itself the root of the great religions. It is the ground and meaning of Jesus, Buddha, and Lao-tzu. Tao is the only way: “it is he hodos tou theou (Mark 12:14), God's way in the world.” What the Orient understands is “that the full manifestation and disclosure of the world's inner substance is thwarted; that the primally intended unity is split and distorted; that the world needs human spirit in order to become redeemed and unified; and that this alone constitutes the meaning and power of man's existence in the world.” The essence of the Oriental teaching is the demand for realization. Only when the idea of unity is lived is it a reality. The living of unity is Tao: it is the process of realizing God in the world. The realization of God needs the human spirit.91


Buber claims that the realizing person actualizes the “cosmic intent of oneness” in the world. At the end of the essay, “Ecstasy and Confession,” Buber referred to “the universal mind.” The intention of unity we can understand as an act of intending by the universal mind, or cosmic spirit. We can begin to understand this notion of cosmic spirit through Buber's references to Heraclitus in “The Teaching of the Tao.” Tao, which means the way or the path, also has the meaning of speech that corresponds to the Greek conception of logos. What it conveys is, according to Buber, related to that of the Heraclitean logos: “both transpose a dynamic principle of human life into the transcendent, though basically they mean nothing other than human life itself, which is the bearer of all transcendence.”92 Buber's assumption that nothing other than human life is meant reflects the influence of Feuerbach's position on God as a projection of man. Buber here maintains the position he held in “Ecstasy and Confession,” where he states that the I carries the world-I. Transcendence is restricted to the identification of the I with the world-I. It is an innerworldly reality. The second reference to Heraclitus compares him with Chuang-tzu. Lao-tzu wrote the Book of the Tao and of Virtue; Chuang-tzu composed the parable of Lao-tzu'steaching.93 According to Buber, neither of these writings can be excluded if we are to grasp the integral teaching of the Tao: “ ‘the path,’ (p.81) the ground and meaning of the unified life, as the ground and meaning of all.” Chuang-tzu accomplishes this because his parable “bears the unity of the teaching into all the world,” so that everything appeared full of it and nothing is so insignificant that the teaching refused to fill it. The teaching adds nothing new, but enables what is already present to be actualized: “All strive to comprehend what they do not know, none strives to comprehend what he knows.”94 At the end of his essay, Buber wrote:

There are words of Heraclitus that could not be associated with any other philosophy with the same justification as with the Tao-teaching: words such as that of the unknowable logos that yet works in all, of the unity that is at once nameless and named, of its manifestation as the eternal order in the world, of the eternal transformation from totality to unity and from unity to totality, of the harmony of opposites, of the relation between waking and dream in the existence of the individual, of that between life and death in the existence of the world. Further, Chuang-tzu may perhaps be compared with the total shape of Greek philosophy that transferred the teaching from the sphere of genuine life into the sphere of explanation of the world, into an ideological structure, thereby, to be sure, creating something wholly individual and powerful in itself.95

Heraclitus wrote of the logos as the law or order that pervades all things.96 The truth of the logos, the underlying unity of things, is valid for and accessible to all human beings. The logos is common (xynon), though people live as if they have a private understanding. Some people act as if they were asleep, even when awake. Those who are awake have the logos in common and thus form a unity, or community. All people should recognize the logos as the “unifying formula,” or “structural plan,” of each thing and of the whole.97 It is a universal principle that every rational being should obey. Heraclitus also discerns the unity of opposites: Out of all things comes a unity, and out of a unity all things.98 God is connected to the pairs of opposites as the common element that remains during change. Heraclitus seems to have “regarded ‘god’ as in some probably undefined way immanent in things, or as the sum total of things.”99 God, therefore, is not essentially different from the logos. Wisdom means understanding the logos, but God is the One who is completely wise: “One thing, the only true wise, does not and does consent to be called by the name of Zeus.”100

(p.82) In the same period as Heraclitus was presenting his insights to the Western world, the teaching of the Tao became of great importance in the East. Buber claims that in the West, Tao has usually been understood as an attempt to explain the world. The explanation always happens to coincide with the philosophy of the particular time. Tao has therefore been successively understood as nature, as reason, and as energy. However, Tao implies only that the “whole meaning of being rests in the unity of the genuine life, that it is experienced nowhere else, that it is just this unity which is grasped as the absolute.”101 Buber cautions against any attempt to seek what underlies the unified life; nothing will be found but the unknowable, and of this, “nothing further can be said than that it is unknowable.” Here is the mystery of the primal source. Heraclitus claimed that the real constitution of the whole is accustomed to hide itself. Buber argues that the “unknowableness” of “Tao in itself,” or the “true Tao,” is not like the “unknowableness” of some philosophical or religious principle that one then goes on to discuss. Buber stresses that even the word “Tao” does not actually name the unknowable; he quotes from Lao-tzu: “the name that can be named is not the eternal name.” There is therefore a “nameless,” both in Taoism and in Heraclitus' teaching. Tao is to be regarded as the “one thing needful,” whose reality is experienced in unified life; if one attempts to consider it as something separate, one finds that there is nothing to regard: “Tao can have no existence.” Tao cannot be represented, as it cannot be thought, it has no image, no word, and no measure: “The right measure of the Tao is its self.” It cannot be investigated or demonstrated. Not only can no truth be stated concerning it, but also it cannot be a subject of a statement at all. “We cannot discover it in any being. If we seek it in heaven and earth, in space and in time, then it is not there; rather, heaven and earth, space and time, are grounded in it alone. And nonetheless ‘it can be found through seeking’ (L): in unified life. There it is not recognized and known, but possessed, lived, and acted.”102

This Tao that is unknowable “in itself” appears in the becoming of the world as “the original undivided state, as the primal existence from which all elements sprang, as ‘the mother of all beings …’ (L) as the ‘spirit of the valley’ that bears everything.”103 Is this the universal mind or cosmic spirit that Buber mentions in “Ecstasy and Confession”? Buber states that always in Tao-teaching, “consciousness effects being, spirit effects reality.” It is the One, the cosmic spirit, that effects reality. In the becoming of the world, it is the One, the unity out of which (p.83) comes the multiplicity of all things. It is a different “face” or aspect of the same Tao. In the being of the world, Tao appears as “the constant undividedness: as the united transformation of the world, as its order.” In the connection of the successive moments in the life of the world, Tao verifies itself—“in the coming and going of all things, in the unity of their eternal changes.” Like the Heraclitean logos, Tao is the unity in all change: “Tao is unloosing, it is transition to new shape, it is a moment of sleep and contemplation between two world lives. All is becoming and change in the ‘great house’ of eternity. As in the existence of things, separation and gathering, change and unity, succeed each other, so in the existence of the world life and death follow each other, together verifying Tao as unity in change. This eternal Tao, which is the denial of all illusory being, is also called non-being.”104

In particular things, Buber claims that Tao appears as “undividedness.” Tao is the path of things, their manner, their peculiar order, and their unity. Each thing reveals the Tao through the way of its existence, through its life. “There is nothing in which the whole Tao is not present as this thing's self.”105 This statement essentially agrees with Buber's statement in his essay on Boehme that “God is not compartmentalised but is everywhere whole and where he reveals himself there he is wholly revealed.” It is an identification of the absolute with each thing. Tao, which Buber claims is comparable with the logos of Heraclitus, lies wholly in each thing. It is the thing's self. This is a pantheistic position. As Boehme claims that in each thing, the latent qualities of all things are present, the Tao also exists in things only potentially. It first becomes active in its contact with other things: “If there were metal and stone without Tao, there would be no sound. They have the power of sound, but it does not come out of them if they are not struck. Thus it is with all things.” Tao is the power present in things. This power is latent in them; it only becomes living and manifest through their contact with other things.

Two comments may be made here. First, as Jonathan Herman points out, this is an instance in which Buber gives an indication “that he is discerning in Chuang Tzu a concept of unity predicated on relationality, as though he were on the threshold of breaking free from a self-annihilating pantheism.”106 This confirms our recognition of a hesitation on Buber's part in “Ecstasy and Confession.” I would add that the activity and passivity involved in the contact of things with each other in order (p.84) for Tao to become living is a step toward the activity and passivity present in the I-Thou relation,107 in which the Eternal Thou becomes present.

Second, Robert Wood recognizes the notion of nonaction as one of the central notions of I and Thou. Both action and nonaction, according to Buber, are characteristic of the presence of Tao in things. Wood explains nonaction [wu-wei] as follows:

As in any graceful performance, there is a coincidence of opposites: conscious and unconscious, mind and body, where “it acts in me” as much as “I act.” To attempt to force one's actions from the outside, as it were, by a detached picturing of positions, remembrance of prescriptions, marshalling of multiple forces and deliberate willing of movement is to issue in an extremely ungraceful performance. “Grace” is a gift, the gift of instincts and of situations. And it is only by allying oneself with one's gift, by creating in ourselves the conditions for “letting things be,” that graceful performance ensues.108

Tao appears in human beings as “purposeful undividedness: as the unifying force that overcomes all straying away from the ground of life, as the completing force that heals all that is sundered and broken, as the atoning force that delivers from all division.” The goal of purposeful undividedness, of Tao, is its own fulfillment. It wills to realize itself, as Boehme's Ungrund, the eternal groundless will, willed to realize itself. It can realize itself in human beings while it cannot do so in the realm of things. It is only the person who reaches Tao in silence and fulfills it with his being who actually possesses it, and “he does not have it as his own but as the meaning of the world.” This person out of his or her unity beholds the unity in the world: “the unity of the masculine and the feminine elements that do not exist for themselves but only for each other, the unity of the opposites that do not exist for themselves but only through each other, the unity of the things that do not exist for themselves but only with one another. This unity is the Tao in the world.”109 It is the person who is unified that recognizes the unity in the world.


It was stated above that the unified person beholds the unity of the world. However, Buber adds: “But that is not to be understood as if the (p.85) world were a closed thing outside of him whose unity he penetrates. Rather the unity of the world is only a reflection of his unity; for the world is nothing alien, but one with the unified man. ‘Heaven and earth and I came together into existence, and I and all things are one.’ But since the unity of the world only exists for the perfected man, it is, in truth, his unity that sets unity in the world.”110 Buber maintains a mystical position here: the person beholds the unity of the world, but this unity is only a reflection of his own unity because he and the world are one. He is thus free of distinctions and is joined to the infinite and out of his unity is able to bring unity to the world. In his unity with the All, knowledge is attained. It is only the undivided person who knows; for only in him or her in whom there is no division is there no separation from the world. Only the person who is not separated from the world can know it. Buber then states, “only in the unity with the all is knowledge possible. Unity is knowledge.”111 This person is the wholeness of being, and knowledge is attained through this wholeness. Relation is overcome in the unconditionality of the all-embracing nature of the wholeness. This implies that no relation remains, and the wholeness is unconditional. Buber is stating that the relation between the One and the Many is also overcome. Does this confirm that it is the Unknowable as it is in itself that the person has become in attaining unity? This is the only wholeness: it is the Godhead that in Boehme's terms is prior to the separation of God and the world. Further analysis will enable us to answer this question.

Buber states that in human beings Tao can become pure unity, but it cannot in things. In the perfected being in whom Tao is pure unity, “Tao no longer appears but is.”112 Tao is an immediate reality in the unified person. This reflects the status of the person as both absolute and human. It parallels again Boehme's understanding of the nature of the person as divine and human. The unified person has become unconditioned in fulfilling the teaching. This sets the world of the conditioned against him or her. Since the unity of the world only exists for the perfected person, it is he or she who brings to life the Tao that is latent in them. “The perfected man is self-enclosed, secure, united out of Tao, unifying the world, a creator, ‘God's companion': the companion of all creating eternity.”113 This person “reconciles and brings into accord the two primal elements of nature, the positive and the negative, yang and yin, which the primal unity of being tore asunder.”114 By becoming unified, the perfected person, and only he or she, possesses eternity: “The (p.86) spirit wanders through things until it blooms to eternity in the perfected man.” This coming to fruition of the spirit is also symbolized as a returning to the root in the following quotation cited by Buber from Lao-tzu:

Ascend the height of renunciation, embrace the abyss of rest. The numberless beings all arise. Therein I recognize their return. When the being unfolds itself, in the unfolding each returns to his root. To have returned to the root means to rest. To rest means to have fulfilled one's destiny. To have fulfilled one's destiny means to be eternal.115

Each thing returns to its root. Is this root the unknowable or the One out of which all things have come? Buber answers: “The unknowable and the unified human life, the first and the last touch one another. In the perfected man Tao returns to itself from its world wandering through the manifestation. It becomes fulfilment.”116 It is the unknowable and the unified human being that touch. In the returning to its root, the Tao in the person has completed the circle. The first and the last, the beginning and the end, join together. This is the path of Tao in the world. The touch, however, of the unknowable and the unified human being signifies their identification: Tao is fulfilled in the person. The person has become free of the distinctions between himself or herself and all other beings and joins himself or herself to the infinite; he or she restores both the things and himself or herself to the primal existence.117

Remembering Buber's comparison of Taoism with Heraclitus, we also discover the “return” in Heraclitus in a phrase that reflects “the first and the last”: “Common [xynon]—beginning and end [arche kai peras]—in the periphery of the soul.”[B 103]. Voegelin comments thatthis phrase articulates more adequately the thought of Anaximander that “the things” perish into that from that they were born.118 This is the abyss mentioned above. It is the womb, mentioned by Buber in another essay, which gives birth to and devours all multiplicity and all contrast.119 Voegelin continues: “The Milesian search for the beginning in the horizontal line of the flux of things is now bent back, through the symbol of the circle, so that the beginning and the end will meet in the permanent presence of the xynon that is experienced in the vertical direction of the soul toward the ‘All-Wise.’ For Heraclitus and for Tao the dynamic principle is a process of ascent: ‘Human wisdom is not a completed possession but a process. The participation in the divine wisdom that is apart from all things, cannot be achieved through a leap (p.87) beyond all things; it is the result of the occupation with these very things, ascending from the manifold to the One that is to be found in them all.”120


Although, as I have mentioned, Buber gives an indication that the importance of relation is beginning to emerge in his understanding of the teaching of Tao, the One is found in all things as a result of the unity of the perfected person. As I have mentioned, it is not in separation, but in the unity of being that there is knowledge. This knowledge is had in the embracing of all things in unity. This knowledge is being, and the person is every thing as he or she is the wholeness of being. In this wholeness things are known because he or she regards them from the inside out, not from their appearances, but “from the essence of this thing, from the unity of this thing that it possesses in its own unity.” Everything is subjective; there is therefore immediate knowledge of all. As the person is the wholeness of being, all things are lifted with him or her out of appearance into being. This knowledge embraces all things in its being; that is, in its love. “It is the all-embracing love that overcomes all opposites.”121 There is no distinction here between one person and another; there is no relation.

This embracing love is the action of the perfected person. What is commonly called action, Buber claims, is not action. It is not done out of the whole being, but from single intentions and is dispersed in many aims. If the action is approved, it is commonly called virtue, but it is not virtue. It exhausts itself in “love of mankind” and “righteousness.” However, these expressions of “virtue” have nothing in common with the love of the perfected man. What is generally called love is perverted because “it comes forward as an ought, as the subject of a command.” Love, though, cannot be commanded. Furthermore, these expressions of action, that is, “love of mankind” and“righteousness” have nothing in common with the love of the perfected man because they “rest upon a man's standing opposite the other men and then treating them ‘lovingly’ and ‘justly.’ ” But the love of the perfected man, for which each man can strive, rests upon unity with all things.”122 Buber is again dismissing the distinction and difference between one person and another—even in the context of love. Here love, rather than being a relation, is identification. Love is not recognized as a movement toward (p.88) the other, but as an overcoming of all distinction in one's unity with all things. There is no presence of oneself to oneself or to another. The wholeness of this unity precludes any relation.

In his essay, “With a Monist” [1914], Buber draws on the connection between knowledge and love in the Hebrew word “to know,” which also means “to embrace lovingly.” However, in 1909, when he wrote “The Teaching of the Tao,” Buber has one foot in the camp of unity while the other is attempting to reach relation. The embracing of all things is in the unity, the “being all” of the unified person: “This knowledge embraces all things in its being.” It thus denies the differentiation of oneself from the other person or thing standing over against one. The unified person is not present to himself as a limited person, but is infinite, is unconditioned, is absolute. No other person or thing is present to this person as a unique other that is not included in the perfected person's “I.” The perfected person is being, and there is nothing outside being.

The only way in which the unity of the unknowable can be experienced and grasped is through the unity of the perfected person. The person knows that this unity is all-knowing and all-embracing love. Why then does “Tao in itself” appear in the becoming of the world as the primal existence from which all elements spring? Why does it make this appearance and not remain unknowable? In the smaller perspective, why does the person who experiences this unity “set unity in the world”? Why does he through his action actualize the latent Tao in things?

As the true knowledge is called by Lao-tzu “not-knowing,” so the true action is called “non-action.” This “nonaction” is an “effecting of the whole being. To interfere with the life of things means to harm both them and oneself. But to rest means to effect, to purify one's own soul means to purify the world, to collect oneself means to be helpful, to surrender oneself to Tao means to renew creation.”123 The will of the person concentrated into a whole becomes pure power, pure effecting; there is no longer any division between this person and what is willed: being. Buber claims that the “nobility of a being lies in its ability to concentrate itself into one.” This action is in harmony with the nature and destiny of all things, that is, with Tao.124 It does not interfere with the growth of things. The person guards and unfolds what wills to become. Each thing is embraced: this love is totally free and unlimited, it does not depend on the conduct of men and knows no choice; “it is the (p.89) unconditioned love. ‘Good men—I treat them well, men who are notgood—I treat them well: virtue is good. True men—I deal with them truly, men who are not true—I also deal with them truly: virtue is true’ (L)”125 What wills to become is what is in agreement with the primal nature (Urbeschaffenheit) of things and persons. This position has dangerous consequences that become evident in Buber's attitude to the First World War.

The will of the Tao reveals itself to the person through “the need and drive” of the community of beings. This person does not impose command or compulsion on the community, but “submerges himself in it, listens to its secret message, and brings it to light and to work, he rules it in truth. He performs the nonaction; he does not interfere, but guards and unfolds what wills to become.”126 This is a revelation of the will of the cosmic spirit, or universal mind, that Buber mentioned at the end of his introduction to the Ecstatic Confessions. It is also, as I will later discuss, the kernel of Buber's concept of realization, which leads to the I-Thou relation. The choices that he or she makes therefore affect the world.

The perfected person, the unified one, is the one who directly experiences Tao. However, naked unity, just like ecstasy, is “dumb.”127 It takes place in solitude and leads to the person bringing the word to others or to a life of concealment. A word stirs in the person who is submerged “in wordless wonder, in the hour of stillness, before the break of day where there is yet no Thou other than the I, and the lonely talk in the dark traverses the abyss across and back.”128 The picture that Buber paints is that of the primal I who is alone and has no response from the other side of the abyss. The abyss is the apeiron out of which the multiplicity flows and to which it returns. On one side of the abyss is the unknowable and on the other side is the world. However, if there is only I, there is only the unknowable identified with the person. This unity is undifferentiated, and there is only consciousness of the I as the One.


The teaching is inaccessible through subject and object, content and form, or is and ought, because its way is not the way of knowledge, but of the pure fulfillment in a human life. In other words, one can only (p.90) “know” it by doing it. Naked unity, just like ecstasy, is “dumb.” However, echoing Bernard de Clairvaux's experience, Buber claims that in the experience of unity, a word stirs in the ground of the person, “where there is yet no Thou other than the I.”129 Already with the stirring of the word, the unity is touched by parable: the words do not proceed from pure unity because the multiplicity has already entered when the person attempts to speak the word.130 The teacher in using the parable attempts to express the unity through things, events, and relations, as all speech concerns these things.131 The person who has achieved unity seeks out those who remain in a simple unity and speaks to them in parables. Here the parable becomes a prism and leads to the dissolution of the teaching, whereas to those who have become unified, it is a “glass through which one beholds the light framed in a border of colours.”132 The teacher's life itself becomes a myth after his death; here myth is “the insertion of the world of things into the absolute.” After this fulfillment, the teaching mingles with elements of science and law and forms religion. However, this contributes to the dissolution of the teaching, but again and again there is an awakening in the souls of the religious that leads them to the teaching. This does not mean, though, that there is one content of the teaching that takes different forms. Buber argues that the dialectical opposition of content and form does not clarify history, but confuses it. In the same way, this opposition does not clarify the apperception of art. Buber uses the example of art recurrently. The mere extraction of content and form in the appreciation of a painting limits the experience to the realm of I-It.133

There is a symbol, a sign of truth, however, that stands against the encroachment of this dialectic of content and form on the teaching: “the Logos of the Johannine Gospel, the symbol of primal existence taken significantly from the world of speech.” This primal existence is the mysterious one from which emanates the many. Buber claims that “ ‘The Word’ is ‘in the beginning’ because it is the unity that is dialectically dissected.”134 This symbol of primal existence, “The Word,” which is unity, is a companion to every genuine human word. Each such word is a unity that has been dissected into content and form. Nevertheless, this dissection means that the word cannot “reach beyond the province of conceptual classification.”135 It cannot, therefore, go back before the multiplicity with which it is concerned and reach the one.

Buber claims that the same holds for the teaching. When each teaching is dissected, we get the “content,” not the unity. The content is “the (p.91) talk about the kingdom of heaven and the adoption by God; or the talk about the release from suffering and the holy path; or the talk about Tao and nonaction.”136 This is inevitable, Buber claims, because the unity is more than Jesus, Buddha, and Lao-tzu tried to express; it is their ground and meaning. Just as unity is the ground and meaning of the life of the great teachers, it awaits discovery as the ground and meaning of all life. In revealing the teaching in its essence, the parable “bestows on each the possibility of also discovering and animating the teaching in himself.” The person can discover the unity already present as a potentiality in himself or herself and bring it to life.137


The teaching of the Tao is in Buber's presentation another form of the primordial myth of the path of the Ultimate. It is a formulation that parallels Boehme's to a very significant extent. It remains a creation myth. There is a source: the Godhead, the eternal, unchangeable Unity, the Ungrund in Boehme, which is the “Tao in itself,” the Unknowable in the teaching.138 Whereas Boehme stresses that he can only write about the manifestation of the Godhead in the world—and in writing of this manifestation, he uses the name God—Buber distinguishes between the unknowable “Tao in itself” and Tao as it appears in the becoming of the world: the primal existence that is open to relation and the becoming of many. In Boehme's conception, there is the Holy Spirit, the power or will operative in all things that is equivalent to the presence of Tao as the core of all beings in the world. For Boehme, there is also the third presence of the Trinity: the delight, the Son, who is the incarnated substance of the will.139 Buber claims that, according to the teaching of Tao, each person is the substance and place of the actualization of the will that desires itself. Here unity attains being, is actualized. This is another form of the becoming God. Through the human being, according to Buber, the will for unity manifests itself as an all-embracing love and knowledge and thus returns to or becomes itself. However, it is not the Tao as it appears in the being of the world to which it returns, but to the Unknowable in which there is no possibility of relation. It is this unknowable unity, Buber claims, that is reached in the experience of the unified person. This unity is wholeness without any duality or multiplicity, without any relation to anything.140 In the experience of the unified person, there is no differentiation between (p.92) oneself as a limited human being and any other being. In identifying the unified human being with the source, with the Godhead, Buber must deny the value of human relationality. There is no relationality in identity, in unity with the Tao as it is itself. There is therefore no knowledge in the common sense as it depends on a knower and a known. This person attains an absolute knowledge through the embracing of all that is called “unconditioned love.” This is the love that has no relation to anything because it is everything; it is the love of itself. In being all it knows all. “To be and to know are one and the same thing,” as both Parmenides and Plotinus held.141

Part III: On Judaism

In the collection of Buber's essays published as On Judaism, the addresses delivered before 1914 concern a number of ideas that are relevant to our investigation. Unity remains the most important goal for Buber, and he identifies this as the most fundamental desire of the Jewish people. This desire is innate; it arises out of the latent natural tendencies of the people. The idea of God, according to Buber, emerges out of the striving for unity. The actualization of this idea of God remains dependent on the actions of human beings.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, Buber clarified many of the “inexact” or “inaccurate” expressions in these addresses in the preface to the 1923 edition. Nevertheless, the addresses themselves indicate Buber's position on some conceptions relevant to our discussion. I will consider these under three headings: Religiosity, Striving for Unity, and God and Godhead.


During the period 1906 to 1912, Buber was editor of a series of monographs on social psychology; the series had the title, Die Gesellschaft. Buber's professor and friend Georg Simmel contributed a volume, Die Religion, to this series. In this work, Simmel made a distinction between “religion as the objective world of belief, and religiosity as a category of feeling, an innermost quality of being that colors one's entire experience, a force that creates religion out of itself.”142 Buber adapted (p.93) this distinction and used religiosity as an expression for the feeling of the person who discovered and animated the unconditioned in himself or herself. Buber defines religiosity and religion as follows:

Religiosity is man's sense of wonder and adoration, an ever anew becoming, an ever anew articulation and formulation of his feeling that, transcending his conditioned being yet bursting from its very core, there is something that is unconditioned. Religiosity is his longing to establish a living communion with the unconditioned, his will to realise the unconditioned through his action, transposing it into the world of man. Religion is the sum total of the customs and teachings articulated and formulated by the religiosity of a certain epoch in a people's life; its prescriptions and dogmas are rigidly determined and handed down as unalterably binding to all future generations, without regard for their newly developed religiosity, which seeks new forms.143

The concept of religiosity is therefore also applicable to Buber's understanding of the mystical experience in which the mystic seeks unity and to the experience of the person who discovers the Tao in himself or herself. Whatever the unconditioned is, the person wishes to realize it in the world. It is something that remains unrealized without the action of man. The crucial thing about this action is not so much what is done, as whether it is being done in human conditionality or divine unconditionality: “Whether a deed will peter out in the courtyard, in the realm of things, or whether it will penetrate to the Holy of Holies is determined not by its content but by the power of decision which brought it about, and by the sanctity of intent that dwells in it.” Indecisiveness and inertia are the root of evil. To be acted upon is to be conditioned; this means to be in bondage, to be in sin, rather than to live in freedom, which is to make decisions. This indecisiveness means one does not realize God. Acting unconditionally, the person becomes unconditioned, and the fate of the “God-idea,” that is, the abstract truth, is entirely dependent on his or her decision:

God is an unknown Being beyond this world only for the indolent, the decisionless, the lethargic, the man enmeshed in his own designs; for the one who chooses, who is aflame with his goal, who is unconditioned, God is the closest, the most familiar being, (p.94) whom man, through his own action, realises ever anew, experiencing thereby the mystery of mysteries. Whether God is “transcendent” or “immanent” does not depend on him; it depends on man.144

Buber stresses the absolute importance of the action of man when he argues that “God is not something to be believed in but to be fulfilled.”145 Furthermore, the extent of the reality of God is dependent on man's decision: “the more man realises God in the world, the greater His reality.” Therefore, as the only reality of God is that created by man in the world, this reality is restricted to the world. The decision is a religious act; in fact, it is the religious act because it is the realization of God by man. Buber's first address, “Judaism and the Jews,” gives us an example of the immanent realization of the “God-idea” in the world.

Buber asks: “Is there an inherently Jewish religiosity? Is there not dogma or norm, nor cult or rule, but, alive in men of today and manifest in a community of Jews, a unique relationship to the absolute which can be called essentially Jewish?”146 Pursuing this line of inquiry, Buber asks of his own time: “Where is there among Jews a divine fervor that would drive them from the purposive busyness of our society into an authentic life, a life that bears witness to God, that, because it is lived in His name, transmutes Him from an abstract truth into a reality?”147 Buber's concept of God is that of “an abstract truth,” but this idea may become reality. The human being has to decide whether this idea is realized. God is merely an idea until it is realized by man. We will shortly discuss how man arrives at this abstract truth. In this bearing witness to the idea, the person brings the idea to reality. One is not bearing witness to something that already is, but to something that is becoming through one's actions, through one's life. The influence of the idea of the “becoming God whom we create,” present in the essay on Boehme, is also felt here.

What is the content of this idea of God? In answering this question, Buber first introduces a theory of the development of the “I” that he maintains in his writings through I and Thou. He claims that “the child first experiences the world around him and only gradually discovers his I, only gradually learns to differentiate between the mass of objects and his body as a separate existence.”148 The individual adult repeats this process of perceptual orientation on the level of intellectual orientation. (p.95) The adult first experiences the changing world of impressions and influences, the surrounding world, and lastly discovers his or her own self, the enduring substance, amidst all the changes. What is this enduring substance? The person comes to an awareness of his own self and to a sense of belonging to his native surroundings and community. But he or she may be led on from there. “What leads him on is an innate desire, blunted in some people but growing and maturing in others, for perpetuity, for lasting substance, for immortal being. He discovers that there is a constancy not only in the forms of experience, but also a constancy of existence which steadily sustains all being.”149 Buber claims that just as the child discovers the I of his physical being last, so the adult finally discovers the I of his spiritual being as an enduring substance. As the person discovers her I, her desire for perpetuity guides her range of vision beyond the time-span of her own life. A person “stirred by the awesomeness of eternity” experiences within himself the existence of something enduring. This something is the “unconditioned bursting forth from his core” in accordance with the above definition of religiosity. He experiences it still more keenly in its “manifestness and its mystery” in the succession of generations.150

According to Buber, in this “immortality of the generations a community of blood” is sensed by the person, which he feels to be “the antecedents of his I, its perseverance in the infinite past.” Added to this sense is the discovery “that blood is a deep-rooted nurturing force within individual man; that the deepest layers of our being are determined by blood; that our innermost thinking and our will are colored by it.”151 The person senses that he belongs to the community of those whose substance he shares. His people are now his soul, and together with past and future generations, they constitute a unity. “It is this unity that, to him, is the ground of his I, this I which is fitted as a link into the great chain.”152 This unity is the unconditioned, it is realized through each person absorbing it as his own truth and making a decision that affirms it. The unity of the community of blood, which is the ground of the person's I, is, according to Buber, the reality that manifests the transmutation of God from an abstract truth. Just as in the essay on Boehme, Buber wrote that the unity of creative forces was “the new God whom we create,” here God is manifested as a reality through the decision of each person to affirm the unity of the successive generations.

(p.96) Immediately following Buber's discussion of the unity of the generations, in the same paragraph, a section was omitted from all editions of this address subsequent to the publication of I and Thou.153 The omitted section states that as the Jews of the past freed themselves of the fall of their souls through devotion to the one God, so in these days, Buber and his contemporaries free themselves from it. “But not through devotion to a God, which is no longer possible for us, but through devotion to the ground of our being, to the unity of the substance in us.”154 The ground of all beings in “The Teaching of the Tao” was the Tao, the unity of all. Buber is now claiming that the ground of all beings is the unity of the community of blood, which again is a substitute for God.

Buber believes that devotion to this unity will free Jews of duality. He states that something has been planted within the person that does not leave at any hour of life, “that determines every tone and every hue in our life, all that we do and all that befalls us: blood, the deepest, most potent stratum of our being.”155 This determinant is explained by Buber: “the innermost stratum of man's disposition, which yields his type, the basic structure of his personality, is that which I have called blood: that something which is implanted within us by the chain of fathers and mothers, by their nature and by their fate, by their deeds and by their sufferings; it is time's great heritage that we bring with us into the world.”156 This connection with past and future generations therefore replaces the devotion to the one God of past generations. The transmutation has given rise to a substitute reality. And this reality eclipses the reality of a transcendent God.157

Whoever decides for the substantial community of blood affirms himself and his whole Jewish existence; “then our feelings will no longer be the feelings of individuals; every individual among us will feel that he is the people, for he will feel the people within himself.”158 Here again, Buber is emphasizing that the unity of the whole community of people is the unity experienced by the person within himself or herself. The person is the whole. This relegates the relations with members of this community to a position of lower value and importance. The past of the community is now viewed as the early history of this person's life; the present of the community is his present. “My soul is not by the side of my people; my people is my soul,” writes Buber, and by the same process, “every one of us will then become aware of the (p.97) future of Judaism and feel: I want to go on living; I want my future—a new, total life, a life for my own self, for my people within me, for myself within my people.”159 “What matters for the Jew,” writes Buber, “is not his credo, nor his declared adherence to an idea or movement, but that he absorb his own truth, that he live it, that he purify himself from the dross of foreign rule, and that he find his way from division to unity.”160 Absorbing one's own truth is discovering and animating the unity of the community in oneself; this is “the unconditioned bursting from his core” mentioned by Buber in his definition of religiosity.161 The overcoming of duality through commitment to this unconditioned is the redemption that the person can achieve for himself.

An analysis of this address indicates a striking similarity, in the Jewish context, to Friedrich Schiller's understanding of universal history. Remembering that Buber's grandmother read Schiller's periodicals, and that he chose an extract from Schiller for his bar mitzvah ceremony, the influence of Schiller here is not surprising. Schiller wrote that there “is a long chain of events reaching from the present moment back to the beginnings of the human race, interlocked like cause and effect.”162 However, there are gaps in the knowledge of world history. It is the task of the “philosophical intellect” to connect the fragments by artificial links, so that “the aggregate will be raised to the rank of a system, to a rationally coherent whole.”163 I suggest that this is what Buber has achieved in the above outline of Jewish self-understanding by stating that the community of the dead, the living, and the yet unborn constitutes a unity, devotion to which will overcome duality. This unity is the unconditioned, and realizing it leads to the unity of the I—the I that is the All. The I therefore becomes unconditioned.

Voegelin's comment on Schiller's understanding enables us to appreciate the similarity: Schiller believes that the reduction of man to an “individual of the species” and the submersion of the mortal individual in the immortal stream of human history will gain for man an immorality for which as a person he has no hope. The barriers of birth and death that are felt to be the walls of a prison cannot be abolished, but they can at least be made invisible by the “optical illusion” of participating in universal history. “The occupation with universal history turns out to be the opium for an intellectual who has lost Faith.”164 At this time in his development, Buber is just such an intellectual.


In the second address, “Judaism and Mankind,” Buber extends the question of duality to all humanity. He writes that mankind has needed and still needs Judaism as “the most distinct embodiment, the exemplary representation, of one of the mind's most supreme elemental drives.”165 According to Buber, there is more at stake here than the fate of a people; at stake are “archhuman and universally human matters.” Buber argues that “Man experiences the fullness of his reality and his potentiality as a living substance that gravitates toward two poles; he experiences his inner progress as a journey from crossroads to crossroads.”166 These two poles are the sublime and the debased: “often the yea wrestles with the nay within the same individuals who, through singular upheavals, crises, and decisions, may attain either of the two poles.” Buber continues by arguing that this tension in man between the “two opposites of his inner striving” is one of the essential, determining facts of human life; perhaps, he adds, it is even the most essential. Buber claims that this essential fact of human life “conveys the awesomeness of the primal dualism.” This primal dualism is a reference to the conflict and love discussed in Buber's essay on Boehme. Although the two opposites may be given different names and have various meanings and the choice at the crossroads may be considered a personal decision, an external necessity, or a matter of chance, the basic form is unchanged. Buber asserts that in the Jew, this basic form is more central and dominant than in anyone else. It is the striving for unity that makes Judaism a phenomenon of mankind and changes the Jewish question into a human question.

Throughout Jewish history and writings, Buber claims, one will find a “sense and knowledge of disunion and duality—and a striving for unity.”167 It is the inner duality and the striving for unity that are permanent. The strongest expression of the duality is that between the elements of good and evil presented in the myth of the fall in the Book of Genesis. Here the task of the human person is presented as a choice, as a decision on which his fate depends. This striving is for unity within the individual person, within and between nations; between mankind and every living thing; and between God and the world. Then Buber asserts:

And this God Himself had emerged from the striving for unity, from the dark impassioned striving for unity. He had been disclosed not in nature but in the subject. The believing Jew … had (p.99) drawn Him not out of reality but out of his own yearning, because he had not espied Him in heaven or earth but had established Him as a unity above his own duality, as salvation above his own suffering.168

God is not present as one of the poles of the tension experienced in the psyche because God is not a reality when the tension is experienced. God emerges only from the striving for unity that overcomes the duality. This God that emerges is not a reality, but an idea, or an ideal, in the Kantian sense,169 arising out of the desire for unity. This ideal of the ens realissimum is arrived at through the internal striving of the person.There is no understanding of the presence of the divine in oneself or beyond oneself as a reality in itself. There is no question of the revelation of the divine to oneself. The emergence of the idea of God and the realization of this idea of God by human beings stands opposed to the concept of revelation.

In another address, Buber claims that Judaism is a spiritual process. This process is manifested in history as “the striving for an ever more perfect realisation of three interconnected ideas: the idea of unity, the idea of the deed, and the idea of the future.”170 However, these ideas are not abstract concepts. They are “innate predispositions of a people's ethos that manifest themselves with such great force and so enduringly that they produce a complex of spiritual deeds and values which can be called that people's absolute life.”171 This absolute life is the reality; it is the life lived in the world of the wandering and searching human spirit, and becomes part of the consciousness of mankind. The relative life of manifold appearances exists solely in order for the absolute to arise from it. The spiritual process of Judaism therefore takes the form of “an ideological struggle (Geisteskampfes), an eternally renewed inner struggle for the pure realisation of these folk-tendencies (Volkstendenzen).”172 Buber argues that the struggle comes from the fact that the virtues, which determine the life of the individual person, are simply his or her her reformed, redirected passions elevated to ideality. In the same way, the determining ideas in the life of a people are simply its inherent tendencies elevated to the spiritual and the creative planes.

In other words, the idea of God has nothing to do with the relation between man and an existing transcendent and immanent God, but it arises out of the desire of the person to overcome his or her own duality: (p.100) unity is “born out of one's own duality and the redemption from it.”173 God for Buber at this time is a name for an idea of unity, which is an element in the ideological struggle of human beings.

The first of these ideas, the striving for unity, deserves more investigation. The idea of unity, explains Buber, originates in two sources. First is the fact that the Jew perceives more keenly than others the “context in which phenomena appear than the phenomena themselves, he sees the forest more truly than the trees.”174 Being more inclined to conceptual thought than to imagery, he is “impelled to conceptualize the fullness of things even before he has fully experienced it.” However, he does not stop with a concept; he is driven to continue to “a highest unit that sustains as well as crowns all concepts and binds them into one, just as the phenomena has been bound into a single concept.”175 Kant's claim that the “business of reason to ascend from the conditioned synthesis, beyond which the understanding never proceeds, to the unconditioned which the understanding can never reach” is clearly evident here.176 Buber adds that the second deeper source for the Jew's unitary tendency is “the longing to rescue himself from his inner duality and raise himself to absolute unity. Both sources converge in the God-idea of the prophets. The idea of a transcendent unity springs into being: the world-creating, world-ruling, world-loving God.”177

This explanation of the coming into being of the idea of God leaves no doubt that for Buber at this time there is no question of an encounter with the presence of God. God is not a Being, a Thou whose presence is encountered in relation. Buber claims that this “springing into being” of God as the idea of transcendent unity was a peak in the spiritual process. The idea of unity underwent changes. Another peak was Spinoza's synthesis between the faculties of conceptualization and that of yearning. Here transcendent unity became immanent—“the unity of the world-permeating, world-animating, world-being God: deus sive natura.” Each peak was followed by a decline in which the tendency tounity fades. For a while, it arose again in Hasidism, then weakened, and the sterile period in which Buber writes began. Even here, however, the yearning for unity is not dead, and therefore there is a call for renewal.

Once the basic elements of Judaism, which Buber identifies as the primal dualism and the striving for unity, are present, then the creativity of Judaism can continue in its task which is to offer, ever anew, a unification of mankind's varied striving and ever new possibilities for synthesis. It has already offered a religious synthesis at the time of the (p.101) prophets and early Christianity; an intellectual synthesis at the time of Spinoza; a social synthesis at the time of socialism, when the Messianic ideal was reduced in scope, made finite, and called socialism.178

As Kant's highest idea of reason, the being of all beings, is called God, each of the syntheses, which Buber mentions, can be called “God.” Those who offered a religious synthesis referred to the unity as “God”; Spinoza named the “most unified world structure,” or the one substance, “God.” Finally, in a letter to Landauer, Buber wrote: “I have just come across a wonderful saying in Pliny (apparently quoted from Poseidonios); it might virtually serve as a motto for the Socialist league: Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem [God is the helping of man by man]. Probably the finest definition of God!”179 Judaism is getting ready for another synthesis, but its form is still unknown, according to Buber. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: it will demand unity. We conclude that it will be called “God.”

At the end of this address, Buber refers to a saying of Jesus that remains Buber's leitmotiv: “A Jew once said: ‘One thing above all is needed.’ ”180 Buber's interpretation follows: “With this saying he expressed Judaism's soul which knows that all meaning-contents are null and void unless they grow into a unified one, and that in all of life this alone matters: to have such unity.” This, Buber claims, was one of the great, eternal moments of Jewish history. At these moments, Judaism was the Orient's apostle to mankind because it drew from its experience of inner duality and its redemption from it, the power and fervour to teach the world of man the one thing above all that it needs. “Judaism set up the great symbol of inner duality, the separation of good and evil: sin.” However, Judaism also taught the overcoming of this separation—in God, in the life of the holy man, and in the Messianic world. Judaism's fundamental significance for mankind, concludes Buber, is that being conscious of primal dualism and knowing division more than any other community, it proclaims a world in which dualism will be abolished, “a world of God which needs to be realised in both the life of individual man and the life of the community: the world of unity.”181 This implies that it is the task of human beings through their creative striving to bring to reality the world of God, which is equated with the world of unity.

Buber corrected this notion of the realization or becoming of God “either within man or within mankind,” which he calls a “hopelessly (p.102) wrong conception,” in the “Preface” to the 1923 edition of the addresses.182 He then wrote: “I call such a theory, manifest today in a variety of guises, hopelessly wrong, not because I am not certain of a divine becomingin immanence, but because only a primal certainty of divine being enables us to sense the awesome meaning of divine becoming, that is, the self-imparting of God to [H]is creation and His participation in the destiny of its freedom, whereas without this primal certainty there can only be a blatant misuse of God's name.”183


The question of God's name arises for Buber in his explanation of the biblical origin of Jewish monotheism. Buber claims that there are three clearly distinguishable strata: “The first of these three religiohistorical strata … is characterized by its use of the name Elohim, the second by the use of the name YHVH, and the third by its use of both names, to indicate a truly nameless divine being's twofold manifestation as universal God and national God.”184 The name “Elohim,” Buber states, appears as a singular in the Bible, but it was originally unmistakably a plural, meaning approximately “the powers.” Buber claims that there are several traces of this plural divinity, which is “not differentiated into separate, individually existing beings, each with its own nature and own life, but representing, as it were, a plurality of cosmic forces, distinguished in their nature, united in action—an aggregate of creating, sustaining, and destroying powers, a God-cloud moving above the earth, deliberating within itself, and following its own counsel.” This “God-cloud” of cosmic forces that create, sustain, and destroy reminds us again of Buber's conclusion regarding the “Boehmean God,” which he defines as “a potential infinity of powers which constitute no multiplicity but only an irrational unity, within which is a striving towards actualisation.”185 Buber continues by adding that out of the plurality of Elohim emerges a “single dominating force, a single name-bearing, overruling being that seizes more and more power and finally detaches itself as an autonomous sovereign, adorned with the mythical insignia of an old tribal god: YHVH.”186 This being carries with it the powers of Elohim. Then Elohim sinks to the level of a mere attribute. YHVH Elohim is called the One: “YHVH is the divine hero of His people, and the ancient hymns… praise His triumphant deeds, every one of which is a genuine myth.” Buber argues, however, that Judaism's tendency to (p.103) seek an ever higher, perfect unity continues. The cosmic-national YHVH is expanded into the God of the universe, the God of mankind, the God of the soul. YHVH is no longer a corporeal reality, though, and the old mythical images in which he is glorified are now only metaphors for his ineffability. Thus, writes Buber, “the rationalists seem to be vindicated after all, with the Jewish myth apparently ended. But this is not true, for, even millennia later, the people have still not truly accepted the idea of an incorporeal God.”187 However, the position of the rationalists is untrue, Buber adds, for a more important reason, that is, their definition of the concept of myth is too narrow and too petty. The rationalist definition of myth is that “only a tale of the actions and passions of a god who is presented as a physical substance may be properly called a myth.” Nevertheless, the Platonic definition of myth—“a narrative of some divine event described as corporeal reality”—really means, according to Buber, “that we must designate as myth every tale of a corporeally real event that is perceived and presented as a divine, an absolute event.”188 Buber's interpretation requires further examination of the origin of myth. Buber's analysis is important because it is an insight into his concept of realization that he develops in Daniel and which leads to the meetings of I and Thou.

Buber argues that the civilized person's interpretation of the world is based on his understanding of the working of causality, whereas the primitive person's understanding of causality is poorly developed. Here we recognize Buber's desire to go further than the appearances of Kant to the “thing-in-itself,” or noumenon. The primitive understanding is particularly weak in relation to dreams and death, “which for him denote a realm he is powerless to penetrate by investigation, duplication or verification.”189 Sorcerers and heroes also intervene in this person's life with a power that he is unable to interpret. The primitive person does not set these phenomena in a causal relationship, as he does with everyday incidents. Buber argues, instead, that “he absorbs, with all the tension and fervor of his soul, these events in their singularity, relating them not to causes and effects but to their own meaning-content, to their significance as expressions of the unutterable, unthinkable meaning of the world that becomes manifest in them alone.”190 Buber is arguing that the primitive person experiences these events with the intensity of an Erlebnis:

As a result primitive man … has a heightened awareness of the nonrational aspect of the single experience, an aspect that cannot (p.104) be grasped within the context of other events but is to be perceived within the experience itself; of the significance of the experience as a signum of a hidden, supracausal connection; of the manifestness of the absolute. He assigns these events to the world of the absolute, the Divine: he mythicizes them. His account of them is a tale of a corporeally real event, conceived and represented as a divine, an absolute event: a myth.191

Buber concentrates on the experience of the person. It is in his or her own experience that the absolute is grasped as manifested. This is the experience of realization that we will discuss in the next chapter. Buber adds that the ability to create myths does not cease with the passing of primitive peoples. He argues that myth is an eternal function of the soul. This ability to create myths remains in later civilizations even when there is a far greater understanding of causality. Buber asserts that in times of high tension and intense experience, the “shackles” of the awareness of causality fall away, and the person “perceives the world's processes as being supracausally meaningful, as the manifestation of a central intent, which cannot, however, be grasped by the mind but only by the wide-awake power of the senses, the ardent vibrations of one's entire being—as palpable, multifaceted reality.”192

The beginning of the I-Thou relation is present in the element of confrontation in the primitive person's experience. In I and Thou, Buber recognizes the confrontational character of the experience that he has outlined.193 However, at the time of writing “Myth in Judaism,” Buber mentions that the primitive person absorbs the unusual events that he experiences; this absorption is a way of explaining one of the key elements of Buber's understanding of realization. Nevertheless, to the primitive person these experiences remain a sign of something other than himself—of the absolute. At this time, the teaching of Hasidism is becoming evident in Buber's understanding of the relation of the person to the world. In this teaching, he discovers that this “sign of the absolute” has to be realized by man. At the end of this address—“Myth in Judaism”—Buber claims that the ultimate expression “of the influence man and his deed have upon God's destiny” is found in Hasidism. This teaches that the Divine is dormant in all things:

Corporeal reality is divine, but it must be realised in its divinity by him who truly lives it. The shekinah is banished into concealment; it lies, tied, at the bottom of every thing, and is redeemed (p.105) in every thing by man, who, by his own vision or his deed, liberates the thing's soul. Thus, every man is called to determine, by his own life, God's destiny; and every living being is deeply rooted in the living myth.194

Finally, what do these addresses indicate concerning Buber's understanding of God? The divine is dormant, that is, it is a potential in each thing, but man is necessary to realize it in its divinity. Thus God is not present except through the action of man. Through this action the world is redeemed. This means that the reality of the world is heightened and given the “great reality.” This is a phrase used by Buber to signify that intensified reality is functionally dependent upon the intensity of the person's experiencing and realizing.195 Although Bergman relates Buber's phrase “the Great Reality” to the “Great Experience” of Zen Buddhism,196 it is also a phrase used by the early Kabbalists for the hidden God, the Infinite, or “En-Sof.”197 Is it this “great reality” that man realizes in the world, according to Buber? This reality is the equivalent of the “Unknowable” in Tao and of the Godhead for Eckhart and Boehme. Buber does not accept the presence of a transcendent and immanent God who is other than man in every way. He recognizes the ability of man to realize, to make actual, the dormant divine wholly present as a potential in all things. Whether this is the Godhead or not we will discover in the next chapter.

Later, Buber summarized the teachings of Hasidism in a single sentence: “God can be beheld in each thing and reached through each pure deed.” He added that this should not be considered a pantheistic world-view. However, in his earlier writing this is exactly how he understood it.198


(1.) Martin Buber, “Replies to my Critics,” in The Philosophy of Martin Buber, ed. P. A. Schilpp and M. Friedman (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court,1967), 712.

(1.) Martin Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” in The Philosophy of Martin Buber (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1967), 3.

(1.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 23.

(2.) Martin Buber, “My Way to Hasidism,” in Hasidism and Modern Man (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1988) 49.

(2.) Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, vol. 1: The Early Years, 1878–1923 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988), 4.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Ibid., 51. An alternative spelling is Tzava'at HaRibesh.

(3.) Haim Gordon, The Other Martin Buber: Recollections of his Contemporaries (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1988), 50.

(3.) Ernst Benz, Les sources mystiques de la philosophie romantique allemande (Paris: J. Vrin, 1968), 8.

(4.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 3.

(4.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 23.

(5.) Martin Buber, foreword to For the Sake of Heaven (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), xii.

(5.) Ibid., 22.

(5.) Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 171.

(6.) Grete Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, trans. Noah J. Jacobs (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973) 121.

(6.) Haim Gordon, Martin Buber: A Centenary Volume (Jersey City, N.J.: KTAV, 1984), 28.

(6.) Ibid., 51.

(p.xiv) (7.) Ralph Harper, On Presence, Variations and Reflections (Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1991), ix.

(7.) Martin Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991), 672.

(7.) Buber, Between Man and Man, 126.

(8.) George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 3.

(8.) Ibid., letter, 2 June 1909, 122.

(8.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 44.

(9.) Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 281.

(9.) Ibid., letter, 5 February 1928, 357–59.

(9.) Martin Buber, “Ein Wortüber Nietzsche und die Lebenswerte,” Die Kunst im Leben 1, no. 2 (December 1900), 13. The translations are my own, but I wish to thank Dr. Gesa Thiessen for her advice.

(10.) Ibid., 279–80.

(10.) Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 232–33.

(10.) H. P. Rickman, W. Dilthey Selected Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 107–121.

(11.) Elizabeth Murray Morelli, “Oversight of Insight and the Critique of the Metaphysics of Presence,” in Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies, 18 (2000): 8. I wish to thank Des O'Grady, S.J., for drawing this article to my attention.

(11.) Letter addressed to me from Margot Cohn, 30 June 1999.

(11.) Paul Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber's Transformation of German Social Thought (Detroit: Wayne State UniversityPress, 1989), 49.

(12.) I am indebted to Mr. Reinhard Schmidt-Supprian, Director of the Goethe Institute in Dublin, for his help in deciphering and translating these letters.

(12.) Dilthey means by this term the source of the world. See Rickman, W. Dilthey Selected Writings, 144.

(13.) Ibid., 8.

(13.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 4.

(13.) Rickman, W. Dilthey Selected Writings, 112.

(14.) Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (New York: Collier, 1965), 14.

(14.) Ibid., 3.

(15.) Martin Buber, Answer given in discussion; see Sydney Rome and Beatrice Rome, Philosophical Interrogations (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964), 99–100.

(15.) Ibid., 4.

(p.213) (15.) Ibid., 113.

(16.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 24.

(16.) Gordon, The Other Martin Buber, 17. This book is a collection of interviews with family members and other contemporaries of Buber. I have been in correspondence with Buber's granddaughter, Dr. Judith Buber-Agassi, who lives in Israel, and she has advised me that she was not happy with the manner of publication of the interviews she gave for this book.

(16.) Ibid., 114.

(17.) Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 34.

(17.) Ibid., 133.

(17.) Ibid., 115.

(18.) Paul Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber's Transformation of German Social Thought (Detroit: Wayne State UniversityPress, 1989) 165, n321.

(18.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 269.

(18.) Ibid., 116.

(19.) Buber, ‘Foreword’ to For the Sake of Heaven, xiii.

(p.210) (19.) Buber,“Autobiographical Fragments,” 3–4.

(19.) Ibid., 118.

(20.) Aubrey Hodes, Encounter with Martin Buber (London: Penguin, 1972), 55.

(20.) Ibid., 120.

(21.) Grete Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973), 27.

(21.) Ibid., 121.

(22.) Ibid.

(22.) Cited by Rickman in Wilhelm Dilthey: Pioneer of the Human Studies(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 54.

(23.) Buber,“Autobiographical Fragments,” 4–5.

(23.) Rickman, W. Dilthey: Selected Writings, 175.

(24.) Ibid., 19–20.

(24.) Ibid., 176.

(25.) Martin Buber, “Reminiscence,” in A Believing Humanism: My Testament, 1902–1965 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), 29.

(25.) Ibid., 208.

(26.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 5.

(26.) Ibid., 154.

(27.) Rickman, Wilhelm Dilthey: Pioneer of the Human Studies, 41.

(28.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 25.

(28.) Rickman, W. Dilthey: Selected Writings, 162.

(29.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 69.

(29.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 17.

(30.) Ibid., 115 and 122.

(30.) Rickman, W. Dilthey: Selected Writings, 29.

(31.) Gordon, Martin Buber: A Centenary Volume, 30.

(32.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 148.

(32.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 17.

(33.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 4.

(33.) Martin Buber, “Religion as Presence Lectures,” in Rivka Horwitz, Buber's Way to I and Thou, 49. That Buber means an aversion to Erlebnis rather than Erfahrung is confirmed by the published German typewritten copies of the lectures in Rivka Horwitz, Buber's Way to I and Thou: An Historical Analysis and the First Publication of Martin Buber's Lectures“Religion als Gegenwa” (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1978), 76.

(34.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 70.

(34.) Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd ed. (London: Sheed and Ward, 1993), 60.

(35.) Hodes, Encounter with Martin Buber, 56.

(35.) Ibid., 61.

(36.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 6–7.

(36.) Ibid.,

(37.) Ibid., 7.

(37.) Ibid.,

(38.) Ibid.,

(39.) Ibid., 23.

(39.) Ibid., 62.

(40.) Ibid., 10.

(40.) Ibid., 62–63. It is interesting that Derrida mentions Rousseau as his model of interiority. Derrida's acclaim of the aesthetic may be compared to the effect of the concept of Erlebnis on Buber. The danger of the“totalization of the aesthetic,” as St. Amour phrases it, is what Buber escaped from in his discovery of presence. Paul St. Amour, “Presence and Differentiation: A Response to Elizabeth Morelli's “Oversight of Insight and the Critique of the Metaphysics of Presence,” in Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies, 18 (2000): 23.

(41.) Gadamer, Truth and Method, 63.

(42.) Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 8.

(42.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 21.

(43.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 5–6.

(43.) Some of those listed by Gadamer are: Akt des Lebens (“act of life”), Moment (“initial element”), eigenes Gefühl (“one's own feeling”), Einwirkung (“influence”), Regung als freie Selbstbestimmung des Gemüts (“feelingas the free self-determination of the heart”), das ursprünglich Innerliche (“the original inwardness”). It would be interesting to trace the influence of some of these synonyms in Buber's writings.

(44.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 25–26. Schaeder notes that Goethe conceived a novel in which various members of a family, in different parts of the world, exchanged impressions in the languages of their respective countries.

(44.) Ibid., 64.

(45.) Ibid., 26.

(p.214) (45.) Buber, “Replies to my Critics,” in The Philosophy of Martin Buber, 711–12.

(46.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 22–23.

(46.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 64.

(47.) Ibid., 9.

(47.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 54.

(48.) Hodes, Encounter with Martin Buber, 82.

(48.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 28.

(49.) Ibid.

(49.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 50.

(50.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 9.

(51.) Ibid., 9–10.

(51.) Martin Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaft,” a handwritten, much-corrected manuscript obtained in the Martin Buber Archives, ref. 47/B.

(52.) Ibid., 10.

(52.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 58.

(53.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 27.

(53.) Ibid., 5.

(54.) Martin Buber, “The Way of Man according to the Teachings of Hasidism,” in Hasidism and Modern Man (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1988), 148–49.

(54.) Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaft,” 6.

(55.) Martin Buber, “What is Man?” in Between Man and Man (New York: Collier Books, 1965), 136.

(55.) Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 58.

(56.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 11–12.

(56.) Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaft,” 6.

(57.) Ibid., 12.

(57.) Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, vol. 1, 77.

(58.) Buber, Between Man and Man, 136–37.

(58.) Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 30.

(p.211) (59.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 12.

(59.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 90.

(60.) Ibid., 13.

(61.) Martin Buber, Daniel Dialogues on Realization (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964). Friedman uses the American spelling of “Realization.”

(61.) Mauthner is mentioned by Schaeder in connection with the mysticism of the period (see page 51); Friedman mentions Mauthner's close friendship with Landauer, (see vol. 1, 236–37, 246, 252–55). Mendes-Flohr briefly outlines Mauthner's influence on the conception of mysticism in the“Editor's Introduction” to Ecstatic Confessions (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996).

(62.) Ibid., 132–33.

(62.) Martin Buber, Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten, Band 1: 1897– 1918, ed. Grete Schaeder (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1972), 238.

(63.) Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 156.

(64.) Hodes, Encounter with Martin Buber, 55.

(65.) Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 48.

(66.) Hodes, Encounter with Martin Buber, 56.

(67.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 31–32.

(68.) Ibid., 32–33.

(69.) Ibid., 33.

(71.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 290.

(73.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 30. I have obtained a copy of his address from the Archives.

(74.) Buber, Between Man and Man, 184.

(75.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 19.

(76.) Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 171.

(77.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 19–20.

(78.) Ibid., 20.

(80.) Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 45–46.

(81.) Ibid., 49.

(82.) Hans Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und Seine Zeit (K öln: Joseph Melzer Verlag, 1961), 19.

(83.) Schaeder, The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber, 20.

(84.) Ibid., 20–21.

(85.) Rudiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger Between Good and Evil (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 20.

(87.) Carl Schorske, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna Politics and Culture (New York: Knopf, 1980), 8–9, quoted in Steven Kepnes, The Text as Thou Martin Bu-ber's Dialogical Hermeneutics and Narrative Theology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 154, n. 16.

(88.) Hans Fischer-Barnicol, “‘… und Poet dazu.’ Die Einheit von Den-ken und Dichten bei Martin Buber,” Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts 9, no. 33, 1966 (Tel Aviv: Verlag Bitaon Ltd.), pp. 4f, 11, quoted in Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 16.

(89.) Buber, A Believing Humanism, 30.

(90.) Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 17.

(91.) Buber, A Believing Humanism, 30.

(92.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 14.

(93.) Buber, Between Man and Man, 98.

(95.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 14.

(96.) Buber, A Believing Humanism, 30.

(p.212) (97.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 14.

(98.) Martin Buber, “Replies to my Critics,” in The Philosophy of Martin Buber, 696–97.

(99.) Paula Winkler, “Betrachtungen einer Philozionistin,” in Die Welt, 6 September 1901, no. 36, 4–6.

(100.) Grete Schaeder, “Martin Buber: A Biographical Sketch,” in The Letters of Martin Buber, 9.

(101.) Kohn, Sein Werk und Seine Zeit, 292, n. 26.

(102.) Schaeder, “Martin Buber: A Biographical Sketch,” 12.

(103.) Ibid., 10.

(104.) Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Work, 1, 337.

(105.) Ibid., 337–38.

(106.) Gordon, The Other Martin Buber, 31.

(107.) Ibid., 19.

(108.) Ibid., 3.

(109.) Ibid., 41and 44.

(110.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 688.

(111.) Gordon, The Other Martin Buber, 42.

(112.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 573–74.

(113.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 3.

(114.) Published in English as The Philosophy of Martin Buber, vol. XII of The Library of Living Philosophers (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1967). 116

(115.) Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 37–38.

(116.) Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber, 269–70.

(117.) Martin Buber, Daniel:Dialogues on Realization, 138.