Saturday, March 5, 2016

Contemplation (Thomas Merton)


"Contemplation" is a word that Thomas Merton used again and again in his writings. It is a theme that he spent much of his life exploring. About contemplation, he wrote "Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant source. Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith...It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts..." 
This short pamphlet is a good introduction to this important topic in the overall work of Thomas Merton.


“Faith is the door to the full inner life of the Church, a life which includes not only access to an authoritative teaching but above all to a deep personal experience which is at once unique and yet shared by the whole Body of Christ, in the Spirit of Christ.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“As long as this “brokenness” of existence continues, there is no way out of the inner contradictions that it imposes upon us. If a man has a broken leg and continues to try to walk on it, he cannot help suffering. If desire itself is a kind of fracture, every movement of desire inevitably results in pain. But even the desire to end the pain of desire is a movement, and therefore causes pain. The desire to remain immobile is a movement. The desire to escape is a movement. The desire for Nirvana is a movement. The desire for extinction is a movement. Yet there is no way for us to be still by “imposing stillness” on the desires. In a word, desire cannot stop itself from desiring, and it must continue to move and hence to cause pain even when it seeks liberation from itself and desires its own extinction.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“Suzuki also frequently quotes a sentence of Eckhart’s: “The eye wherein I see God is the same eye wherein God sees me” (Suzuki, Mysticism: East and West, p. 50) as an exact expression of what Zen means by Prajna.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“Nirvana is the extinction of desire and the full awakening that results from this extinction. It is not simply the dissolution of all ego-limits, a quasi-infinite expansion of the ego into an ocean of self-satisfaction and annihilation. This is the last and worst illusion of the ascetic who, having “crossed to the other shore,” says to himself with satisfaction: “I have at last crossed to the other shore.” He has, of course, crossed nothing. He is still where he was, as broken as ever. He is in the darkness of Avidya. He has only managed to find a pill that produces a spurious light and deadens a little of the pain.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“Is the basic teaching of Buddhism—on ignorance, deliverance and enlightenment—really life-denying, or is it rather the same kind of life-affirming liberation that we find in the Good News of Redemption, the Gift of the Spirit, and the New Creation?” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“It is true, the Zen-man’s contempt for conventional and formalistic social custom is a healthy phenomenon, but it is healthy only because it presupposes a spiritual liberty based on freedom from passion, egotism and self-delusion. A pseudo-Zen attitude which seeks to justify a complete moral collapse with a few rationalizations based on the Zen Masters is only another form of bourgeois self-deception.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“Buddhist philosophy is an interpretation of ordinary human experience, but an interpretation which is not revealed by God nor discovered in the access of inspiration nor seen in a mystical light. Basically, Buddhist metaphysics is a very simple and natural elaboration of the implications of Buddha’s own experience of enlightenment. Buddhism does not seek primarily to understand or to “believe in” the enlightenment of Buddha as the solution to all human problems, but seeks an existential and empirical participation in that enlightenment experience. It is conceivable that one might have the “enlightenment” without being aware of any discursive philosophical implications at all.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite

“live,” said Paul,” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“Christians are now wide open to Asian religions, ready, in the words of Vatican II, to “acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods” found among them.” 
― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite


“they are still satisfied with the old clich├ęs about “life-denying Buddhism,” “selfish navel-gazing,” and Nirvana as a sort of drugged trance.” 

― Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite

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