Now in paperback, revised and redesigned: This is Thomas Merton's last book, in which he draws on both Eastern and Western traditions to explore the hot topic of contemplation/meditation in depth and to show how we can practice true contemplation in everyday life.
Never before published except as a series of articles (one per chapter) in an academic journal, this book on contemplation was revised by Merton shortly before his untimely death. The material bridges Merton's early work on Catholic monasticism, mysticism, and contemplation with his later writing on Eastern, especially Buddhist, traditions of meditation and spirituality. This book thus provides a comprehensive understanding of contemplation that draws on the best of Western and Eastern traditions.
Merton was still tinkering with this book when he died; it was the book he struggled with most during his career as a writer. But now the Merton Legacy Trust and experts have determined that the book makes such a valuable contribution as his major comprehensive presentation of contemplation that they have allowed its publication.
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About the Author
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is widely regarded as one of the most influential spiritual writers of modern times. He was a Trappist monk, writer, and peace and civil rights activist. His bestselling books include The Seven-Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Mystics and Zen Masters.
William H. Shannon is Professor Emeritus, at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. He is the founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society, the general editor of the Thomas Merton letters, and coauthor of The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia with Christine Bochen and Patrick F. O'Connell. He is the author of the much acclaimed biography of Merton, Silent Lamp, as well as a number of books on spirituality, and has been published in many journals. He lives in Rochester, New York.
Read an Excerpt
The Inner ExperienceNotes on Contemplation
By Thomas Merton
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Thomas Merton All right reserved. ISBN: 0060539283
A Preliminary Warning
Man in our day, menaced on all sides with ruin, is at the same time beset with illusory promises of happiness. Both threat and promise often come from the same political source. Both hell and heaven have become, so [they say], immediate possibilities here on earth. It is true that the emotional hell and the heaven which each one of us carries about within him tend to become more and more public and common property. And as time goes on it seems evident that what we have to share seems to be not so much one another's heaven as one another's hell.
For the desire which we cherish, in the secrecy of our soul, as our "heaven" sometimes turns, when offered as a solution to common problems, into everybody's hell. This is one of the curious features of twentieth-century civilization, and of its discontents.
Into the midst of this moral and emotional chaos, popular psychologists and religious teachers, men of pathetic optimism and good will, have rushed forward hopefully to announce their message of comfort. Seldom concerned with the afterlife, whether good or evil, as befits men of our time, they want to set things right for us here and now. They want us, at all costs, to beinspired, uplifted. They fret over our distressing tendencies to see the dark side of modern life, because they are able to imagine that it has a light side somewhere. Have we not, after all, made the most remarkable progress? Is the standard of living not rising every day, and is not our lot becoming always better and better, so that soon we will have to work less and less in order to enjoy more and more? With a dash of psychological self-help and a decent minimum of religious conformity, we can adjust ourselves to the emptiness of lives that are so blissfully devoid of struggle, sacrifice, or effort. These willing counselors want to revive our confidence in all the gestures of bourgeois good feeling which will magically turn pain into pleasure and sorrow into joy because God is in His heaven and all's right with the world.
At such time it would be singularly unfeeling as well as dishonest for me to suggest that peace, joy, and happiness are easily found along that most arid stretch of man's spiritual pilgrimage: the life of contemplation. More often than not, the way of contemplation is not even a way, and if one follows it, what he finds is nothing. Later on in these pages we hope to justify the apparent fruitlessness of the quest. But at present it is important' to make clear that this book has no intention of solving anybody's problems, or of offering anybody an easy way out of his difficulties. At best it may help to bring a little reassurance to those whose difficulties are characteristically spiritual and contemplative - which means that they are barely possible to formulate at all. One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you. Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory, exterior self The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self. And consequently another law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced. And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be "happy" and to find "fulfillment" (whatever that may mean) in contemplation. For the contemplative and spiritual self, the dormant, mysterious, and hidden self that is always effaced by the activity of our exterior self does not seek fulfillment. It is content to be, and in its being it is fulfilled, because its being is rooted in God.
If, then, you are intent on "becoming a contemplative" you will probably waste your time and do yourself considerable harm by reading this book. But if in some sense you are already a contemplative (whether you know it or not makes little difference), you will perhaps not only read the book with a kind of obscure awareness that it is meant for you, but you may even find yourself having to read the thing whether it fits in with your plans' or not. In that event, just read it. Do not watch for the results, for they will already have been produced long before you will be capable of seeing them. And pray for me, because from now on we are, in some strange way, good friends.
The purpose of this opening is not simply to punish the reader or deliberately to discourage him, but to make clear that this book in no sense aspires to be classified as "inspirational." That is to say, it does not aim at making the reader feel good about certain spiritual opportunities which it claims, at the same time, to open up to him. Nor does it pretend to remind anyone of a duty he has failed to perform or attempt to show him how to perform it better. It does not claim to deliver a new and original message that has been hitherto ignored and which will restore true perspectives falsified by the shortsightedness of "other spiritual writers." And, finally, it contains no meretricious promise that one can become a kind of superior being by enrolling himself in an esoteric elite of so-called contemplatives. It does not prescribe any new devout attitudes. It does not encourage a ceremonious and selfrighteous withdrawal from everyday reality. It is not exclusively in favor of passivity and inertia. It prescribes no special psychophysical techniques (although these can certainly have their rightful place in the spiritual life).
Excerpted from The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton
Copyright © 2003 by Thomas Merton
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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“Merton speaks to us even now and freshly with these perceptive insights into the contemplative life.”