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The Wisdom of Thomas Merton

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  • The Wisdom of Thomas Merton

    The great Christian mystic and writer Thomas Merton writes beautifully of his satori standing on a street in Louisville, Kentucky:
    In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being human, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.

    At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.

  • #2
    Merton and our invitation to join the general dance:

    What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Bashō we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash—at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

    For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

    Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.


    • #3
      Father Thomas Merton ..bridge builder between Christianity and Hinduism , Zen Buddhism and Taoism : i read about this Trappist Monk when studying medicine in Europe in 1980s while researching into esoteric christianity and it led to Zen ( in the works of Dr DT Suzuki ) and Taoism ( The Way of Chuang Tzu ) .

      Youtube link below : Merton with Suzuki at 1:08
      Damian Kissey
      Shaolin Wahnam Sabah , Malaysia .


      • #4
        Dear Kevin Sijat and Dr Damian Siheng,

        Thanks for sharing these beautiful and inspirational words.

        With Love, Care and Shaolin Salute,



        • #5
          Daer Kevin Si Jat and Dr. Damian Siheng,

          Thank you for sharing these, just wonderful.

          Best wishes and Shaolin Salute,



          • #6
            Originally posted by Damian Kissey View Post
            Father Thomas Merton ..bridge builder between Christianity and Hinduism , Zen Buddhism and Taoism : i read about this Trappist Monk when studying medicine in Europe in 1980s while researching into esoteric christianity and it led to Zen ( in the works of Dr DT Suzuki ) and Taoism ( The Way of Chuang Tzu ) .

            Youtube link below : Merton with Suzuki at 1:08
            Thank you for the link Dr. Damian! Very interesting to see him in that video with Dr Dr DT Suzuki. Don't think I have ever seen him in formal priestly attire before.

            Thomas Merton was way ahead of his time as regards inter-religious dialogue.

            All the best,



            • #7
              Merton on Contemplation:

              Contemplation is the highest expression of human 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 gratitude for life, for awareness and for 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 both beyond reason and beyond simple faith.


              • #8
                One of Thomas Merton's most famous prayers is his Prayer of Abandonment. Drawing on the great Judeo-Christian theme of lament, Merton beautifully articulates a profound faith in God despite the hopelessness he is experiencing is his spiritual journey.

                My Lord God,
                I have no idea where I am going.
                I do not see the road ahead of me.
                I cannot know for certain where it will end.
                Nor do I really know myself,
                and the fact that I think I am following your will
                does not mean that I am actually doing so.
                But I believe that the desire to please you
                does in fact please you.
                And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
                I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
                And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
                though I may know nothing about it.
                Therefore I will trust you always though
                I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
                I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
                and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
                Last edited by Kevin_B; 15 May 2020, 10:30 PM.


                • #9
                  May I Desire to please all that exists!
                  Charles David Chalmers
                  Brunei Darussalam


                  • #10
                    The ultimate perfection of the contemplative life is not a heaven of separate individuals, each one viewing his own private intuition of God; it is a sea of Love which flows through the One Body of all the elect, all the angels and saints, and their contemplation would be incomplete if it were not shared, or if it were shared with fewer souls, or with spirits capable of less vision and less joy.

                    I will have more joy in Heaven and in the contemplation of God, if you are also there to share it with me; and the more of us there will be to share it the greater will be the joy of all. For contemplation is not ultimately perfect unless it is shared.

                    Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961), Chapter Nine.


                    • #11
                      He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centred ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.
                      Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action.


                      • #12
                        Almost inevitably, our ideally ordered universe—our “private salvation project” as Thomas Merton called it—will eventually disappoint us, at least if we are honest. At some point in our lives, we will be deeply disappointed by what we were originally taught, by where our choices have led us, or by the seemingly random tragedies that take place in all our lives. There will be a death, a disease, a disruption to our normal way of thinking or being in the world.

                        This however is necessary if any real growth is to occur.
                        Adapted from Richard Rohr's book The Universal Christ.


                        • #13
                          Merton explaining the concept of sin.

                          Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy. My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves—the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.

                          All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.


                          • #14

                            Peter of Celles, in Thomas Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer, says:
                            "God works in us while we rest in him. Beyond all grasping is this work of the Creator… This rest, in its effect, shines forth as more productive than any work "

                            This is just another way to assure us that letting go of our judgments, our opinions, our concepts of “how things should be,” our indecision and our anxieties, while not an easy thing to do, is our way to the peace, balance, and rest that taking shelter in the Master and meditation provides for us.
                            Damian Kissey
                            Shaolin Wahnam Sabah , Malaysia .


                            • #15
                              Much wisdom in this quote for anyone (like myself) with a skewed work/life balance.

                              To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
                              Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1968.