Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968) was an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, and scholar of comparative religion. In 1949 he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis. Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews. Among Merton’s most enduring works is his bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain (1948). Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism and was a pioneer of East-West dialog.
Quotes by Thomas Merton…
It would be a grave error to suppose that Buddhism and Christianity merely offer various explanations of suffering, or worse, justifications and mystifications built on this ineluctable fact. On the contrary both show that suffering remains inexplicable most of all for the man who attempts to explain it in order to evade it, or who thinks explanation itself is an escape. Suffering is not a “problem” as if it were something we could stand outside and control. Suffering as both Christianity and Buddhism see it, each in its own way, is part of our very ego-identity and empirical existence, and the only thing to do about it is to plunge right into the middle of contradiction and confusion in order to be transformed by what Zen calls the “Great Death” and Christianity calls “dying and rising with Christ.”
This is a country whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. You do not find it by travelling but by standing still. Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.
The friends of Job appear on the scene as advisers and “consolers,” offering Job the fruits of their moral scientia. But when Job insists that his sufferings have no explanation and that he cannot discover the reason for them through conventional ethical concepts, his friends turn into accusers, and curse Job as a sinner. Thus, instead of consolers, they become torturers by virtue of their very morality, and in so doing, while claiming to be advocates of God, they act as instruments of the devil.
Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure, you were created for Joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.
If you persist in trying to attain what is never attained (It is Tao’s Gift!), if you persist in making effort to obtain what effort cannot get, if you persist in reasoning about what cannot be understood, you will be destroyed by the very thing you seek. To know when to stop, to know when you can get no further by your own action, this is the right beginning!
And it is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close to us for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.
In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities, and there is no joy in things that do not exist.
Come, let us go into the body of that light. Let us live in the cleanliness of that song. Let us throw off the pieces of the world like clothing and enter naked into wisdom. For this is what all hearts pray for when they cry, “Thy will be done.”
If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent Him to us as He is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness. Since nothing that can be heard is God, to find Him we must enter into silence. Since God cannot be imagined, anything our imagination tells us about Him is ultimately a lie and therefore we cannot know Him as He really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined and enter into an obscurity without images and without the likeness of any created thing.
This is the greatest stumbling block in our spiritual discipline, which, in actuality, consists not in getting rid of the self but in realizing the fact that there is no such existence from the first. The realization means being “poor” in spirit. “Being poor” does not mean “becoming poor.” “Being poor” means to be from the very beginning not in possession of anything and not giving away what one has. Nothing to gain, nothing to lose; nothing to give, nothing to take; to be just so, and yet to be rich in inexhaustible possibilities — this is to be “poor” in its most proper and characteristic sense of the word, this is what all religious experiences tell us. To be absolutely nothing is to be everything. When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in.