The Inner Experience of Thomas Merton

thomas-mertonI finally managed to purchase a copy of Thomas Merton’s The Inner Experience.

I first spotted it at a bookshop in Leura a few weeks ago but only had enough to buy a copy of his Dialogues with Silence. Didn’t see it again till I dropped into Adyar last week. What drew my attention is that Thomas Merton is a Christian contemplative that has engaged with Zen meditation. A man after my own heart. Here’s a little of what he had to say:

“This discovery of the inner self [in Zen] plays a familiar part in Christian mysticism. But there is a significant difference, which is clearly brought out by St Augustine. In Zen there seems to be no effort to get beyond the inner self. In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees himself, but reveals himself to the ‘mirror’ in which he is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God ‘through a glass.’ All of this of course is pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, who is ‘in us.’”

“Zen writers might perhaps contend that they were interested exclusively in what is actually ‘given’ in their experience, and that Christianity is superadding a theological interpretation and extrapolation on top of the experience itself. But here we come upon one of the distinctive features of Christian, Jewish and Islamic mysticisms. For us, there is an infinite metaphysical gulf between the being of God and the being of the soul, between the ‘I’ of the Almighty and our own inner ‘I’. Yet paradoxically our innermost ‘I’ exists in God and God dwells in it. But it is nevertheless necessary to distinguish between the experience of one’s own innermost being and the awareness that God has revealed himself to us in and through our inner self. We must know that the mirror is distinct from the image reflected in it.”

Whilst I have great respect for Zen, as Merton does, I agree that it is equally to recognize the distinctive features of Christian contemplation. Maybe that’s something to contemplate on?

One thought on “The Inner Experience of Thomas Merton

  1. dialogues with silence as your first intro to merton… talk about drinking deeply! have you seen his book “the way of chuang tzu” or another interesting read “zen and the birds of appetite?” Rich indeed! However, dialogues with silence is a feast! (and a personal favorite)
    you may want to read his seven story mountain, it is an autobiography of his journey…if you were local, i would lend these to you;)


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