thomas merton

If this metaphysical space is to be known,

such knowledge can be attained only by faith and grace,

not by ‘entering’ but by ‘being entered’

-this is so because the greater must reveal itself to the lesser.

Put differently, that which is immanently ‘Spirit’ can only be known receptively,

through its own intellective vision, and not any derivative faculty such as reason,

feeling or sensation. Reason can only discern conceptually,

at best reducing reality to a dualism of subject and object

(as in the case of Descartes) or catagorical postulate

(as in the case of Kant) or dialectic process

(as in the case of Hegel) – its ‘telos’ will tend to be utopian(as in the case of Marx),

fundamentalist( as in the cases of religious, political or secular dogmatism)

or anthropocentrically consencual (as in the case of Rousseau’s social contract);

while sensation or feeling even where elevated to

the level of empirical ‘science,’ can only discern reality as matter or as psyche,

quantitatively, thereby cutting it off from its transcendent

and qualitative roots, leading to an emphasis on hypertrophic subjectivism

(as in the case of Nietzsche), Psychologism(as in the case of Freud),

or reductive positivism(as in the cases of philosophical positivism and of scientism).

That which transcends us cannot be known reductively

but only by that transcendent faculty which is immanent in us-which in

Tradition is termed the ‘Intellect’

or the Self-knowing Spirit. To know is to discern BEING.

We must empty ourselves or our ‘self’ in order to know who we ARE.

We must return to the sacred emptiness of the space that is our

ontological core in order to know that which truly IS.

–M Ali Lakhani (the Distance between us, found in Sacred Web issue 31)




Soaring upwards
Can be like reaching down

Pushing forward

Can be like pushing back

Going right

Can be like Going left

Within is within

All things begin

And end at the cross roads

–GraalBaum 2013



This world-mountain was Nizir to the Chaldeans, Olympus to the Greeks, Hara Berezaiti to the Persians of the Avesta, the later Alborz and Elburz; a transfer, as says Mme. Ragozin, of ‘mythical heavenly geography to the earth.’ This mountain—the solar hill of the Egyptians—we shall again refer to in the next two or three chapters. At its apex springs, the heaven tree on which the solar bird is perched. From its roots spring the waters of life—the celestial sea, which, rushing adown the firmament, supplies the ocean which circumscribes the earth or falls directly in rain. At their fountain these springs are guarded by a goddess. In Egypt Nut, the goddess of the oversea, leans from the branches of the heavenly persea and pours forth the celestial water. In the Vedas, Yama, lord of the waters, sits in the highest heaven in the midst of the heavenly ocean under the tree of life, which drops the nectar Soma, and here, on the ‘navel of the waters,’ matter first took form. In the Norse, the central tree Yggdrasil has at its roots the spring of knowledge guarded by the Norns, the northern Fates; two swans the parents of all those of earth, float there. In Chaldea the mighty tree of Eridu, centre of the world, springs by the waters. The Avesta gives a very complete picture—Iran is at the centre of the seven countries of the world; it was the first created, and so beautiful, that were it not that God has implanted in all men a love for their own land, all nations would crowd into this the loveliest land. To the east somewhere, but still at the centre of the world, rises the ‘Lofty Mountain,’ from which all the mountains of the earth have grown, ‘High Haraiti;’ at its

summit is the gathering place of waters, out of which spring the two trees, the heavenly Haoma (Soma), and another tree which bears all the seeds that germinate on earth. This heavenly mountain is called ‘Navel of Waters,’ for the fountain of all waters springs there, guarded by a majestic and beneficent goddess. In Buddhist accounts, the waters issue in four streams like the

Eden from this reservoir, and flow to the cardinal points, each making one complete circuit in its descent. In the Persian Bundahish there are two of these heavenly rivers flowing east and west. To the Hindus the Ganges is such a heavenly stream. ‘The stream of heaven was called by the Greeks Achelous.’ The Nile in Egypt, the Hoang-Ho in China, and the Jordan to the Jews, seem to have been celestial rivers. This mountain of heaven is often figured in Christian art with the four rivers issuing from under the Throne of God.

Sir John Maundeville gives an account of the earthly Paradise quite perfect in its detailed scheme. It is the highest place on earth, nearly reaching to the circle of the moon (as in Dante), and the flood did not reach it. ‘And in the highest place, exactly in the middle, is a well that casts out the four streams’—Ganges, Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates. ‘And men there beyond say that all the sweet waters of the world above and beneath take their beginning from the well of Paradise, and out of that well all water come and go.


It is precisely the challenge involved

in using inadequate words

that drives the mind

beyond all words…

At the borders of speech

we open ourselves

to the positive value of silence….

Literary reading,

through its complexity, its music,

its suggestiveness, points to a fuller realm of being.

–Edward k Kaplan (citing Abraham Joshua Heschel)

To consider persons and events and situations only in the light o their effect upon

myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god. But this is impossible. Is there any more cogent indication of my creaturehood than the insufficiency of my own will? For I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me. When I give it pleasure, it deceives my expectation and makes me suffer pain. When I give myself what I conceive to be freedom, I deceive myself and find that I am the prisoner of my own blindness and selfishness and insufficiency.

It is true, the freedom of my will is a great thing. But this freedom is not absolute

self-sufficiency. If the essence of freedom were merely the act of choice, then the mere

fact of making choices would perfect our freedom. But there are two difficulties here.

First of all, our choices must really be free—that is to say, they must perfect us in our

own being. They must perfect us in our relation to other free beings. We must make

the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. From this

flows the second difficulty: we too easily assume that we are our real selves, and that

our choices are really the ones we want to make when, in fact, our acts of free choice are (though morally imputable, no doubt) largely dictated by psychological compulsions,

flowing from our inordinate ideas of our own importance. Our choices are too often

dictated by our false selves.

Hence I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like.

On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable

almost all the time. This would never be so if my will had not been created to use its

own freedom in the love of others.

My free will consolidates and perfects its own autonomy by freely co-ordinating its

action with the will of another. There is something in the very nature of my freedom

that inclines me to love, to do good, to dedicate myself to others. I have an instinct that

tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself alone. The reason for this is that

I cannot be completely independent. Since I am not self-sufficient I depend on someone

else for my fulfillment. My freedom is not fully free when left to itself. It becomes so

when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of another.

At the same time, my instinct to be independent is by no means evil. My freedom is

not perfected by subjection to a tyrant. Subjection is not an end in itself. It is right that

my nature should rebel against subjection. Why should my will have been created free,

if I were never to use my freedom?

If my will is meant to perfect its freedom in serving another will, that does not mean

it will find its perfection in serving every other will. In fact, there is only one will in

whose service I can find perfection and freedom. To give my freedom blindly to a being

equal to or inferior to myself is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom. I can

only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. If I do, in fact, obey other men

and serve them it is not for their sake alone that I will do so, but because their will is the

sacrament of the will of God. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily

obedience to God. From this flow many consequences. Where there is no faith in God

there can be no real order; therefore, where there is no faith obedience is without any

sense. It can only be imposed on others as a matter of expediency. If there is no God,

no government is logical except tyranny. And in actual fact, states that reject the idea of

God tend either to tyranny or to moral chaos. In either case, the end is disorder, because tyranny is itself a disorder. The immature conscience is not its own master. It is merely the delegate of the conscience of another person, or of a group, or of a party, or of a social class, or of a nation, or of a race. Therefore, it does not make real moral decisions of its own, it simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line. It does not really have motives or intentions of its own. Or if it does, it wrecks them by twisting and rationalizing them to fit the intentions of another. That is not moral freedom. It makes true love impossible. For if I am to love truly and freely, I must be able to give something that is truly my own to another. If my heart does not first belong to me, how can I give it to another? It is not mine to give!

Free will is not given to us merely as a firework to be shot off into the air. There

are some men who seem to think their acts are freer in proportion as they are without

purpose, as if a rational purpose imposed some kind of limitation upon our liberty. That

is like saying that one is richer if he throws money out the window than if he spends it.

Since money is what it is, I do not deny that you may be worthy of all praise if you

light your cigarettes with it. That would show you had a deep, pure sense of the ontological value of the dollar. Nevertheless, if that is all you can think of doing with money you will not long enjoy the advantages that it can still obtain.

It may be true that a rich man can better afford to throw money out the window

than a poor man, but neither the spending nor the waste of money is what makes a man

rich. He is rich by virtue of what he has, and his riches are valuable to him for what he

can do with them.

As for freedom, according to this analogy, it grows no greater by being wasted, or

spent, but it is given to us as a talent to be traded with until the coming of Christ. In

this trading we part with what is ours only to recover it with interest. We do not destroy

it or throw it away. We dedicate it to some purpose, and this dedication makes us freer

than we were before.

-Thomas Merton No Man Is an Island (Shambhala Library)

“Kabbalah speaks of four worlds corresponding to different levels or dimensions of reality, thus expanding our concept of health and nutrition far beyond the physical or even emotional and mental planes. Within this concept, a fourth element is the world of Emanation (Atzilut). This is the world from which energy flows across the upper worlds and empties into the material world, the world of Action (Asiyyah). The fourth world is therefore the point of origin for the flow of vital energy coming from the Divine Source. This flow in turn is stored on the spiritual plane, which allows it to enter the mental plane, which in turn supplies the emotional plane. Finally, from the emotional level the flow is conducted to the physical plane, fueling the body for action and exchange, a phenomenon known as existence.

If the world of Emanation alone were the conveyor of all flows of energy, the law of exchange would be subverted. According to the Kabbalah, the energy flow goes both ways, returning from the physical, material world to the One that is the pure source of all energy.

The Kabbalah sees all forms of exchange among living beings and the environment, including eating, in terms of an interactive process among different worlds. Such a process links earth and heaven, matter and energy, action and intention. Living beings are responsible as intermediaries between these realms, as long as their inner or existential world is centered exactly where heaven and earth meet. Regarding this inner world, the Talmud states: ‘This is the world where heaven and earth kiss’.”

— Hilton Bonder (Kabbalah of Food)

“All men seek peace first of all with themselves. That is necessary,
because we do not naturally find rest even in our own being. We have to
learn to commune with ourselves before we can communicate with other men
and with God. A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily
projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with,
and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him. Even when he tries
to do good to others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know
how to do good to himself.”

Thomas Merton

“A love that merely enables man to ‘enjoy himself,’ to remain at peace
in a life of inert comfort and to bring into being of himself is not to
be regarded as true love. It does not represent a renewal, a progress,
a step forward in building the kingdom of God.

True love leads a man to fulfilment, not by drawing things to himself
but by forcing him to transcend himself and to become something greater
than himself. True spiritual love takes the isolated individual, exacts
from him labor, sacrifice, and the gift of himself. It demands that he
‘lose his life’ in order to find it again on a higher level–in Christ.”

–Thomas Merton

[The seeker]then abides in the world, but he does not make the world his wish as other people do, he does not compete for it as other people compete, he does not aim to indulge in its pleasures, and he does not find joy in its companionship.
It becomes minor in his eyes. He casts it aside. He relaxes from the weariness of pursuing [worldly things] and makes himself relax from all such weariness. When you see him, he is always strong, energetic, content, self sufficient, non-worrying, dignified. His face radiates the brightness of worshippers and his heart [contains] the light of ascetics. He has no need for the world apart from hsi basic nourishment. He is better than others.

–Al-Shaqiq al-Balkhi



“The Christian life of virtue is not only a life in which we strive to
unite ourselves to God by the practice of virtue. Rather it is also a
life in which, drawn to union with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we
strive to express our love and our new being by acts of virtue. Being
united to Christ, we seek with all possible fervor to let him manifest
his virtue and his sanctity in our lives. Our efforts should be
directed to removing the obstacles of selfishness, disobedience, and all
attachments to what is contrary to his love.”


–Thomas Merton ( Life and Holiness )




“Before I began my study of Zen,

mountains were just mountains,

 and trees were just trees.


During my study of Zen,

mountains were no longer mountains,

and trees no longer trees.


When I became Enlightened,

mountains were once again mountains,

 and trees once again trees.”




“Perfection is therefore a question of fidelity and love–fidelity to
duty first of all, then love of God’s will in all its manifestations.
Love implies preference and preference demands sacrifice. In practice,
then, the preference of God’s will means setting aside and sacrificing
our own will. The more a Christian renounces his own will to do the
will of God in loving submission and carefree abandonment the more he
will be united to Christ in the Spirit of divine sonship, the more truly
will he show himself a son of the heavenly Father, and the close he will
come to Christian perfection.”


–Thomas Merton (Life and Holiness, page 36)


There is a language older by far and deeper than words.

It is the language of Bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain

on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, of gesture,

of symbol, of memory. We have forgotten this language, forgotten

it for so long we do not even remeber that it exists. If we are

to survive, we must again remember this language.

We must relearn how to think like the planet.


I remember walking into a cold January afternoon several years ago.

My breath hung white in the air, and two dogs danced at my feet.

I heard in the distance the clamour of geese, then stood speechless

to watch a huge V fly low over head.  I opened my mouyth to say something

– I didn’t know what it would be – and heard my voice say three times

“Godspeed.” Suddenly and for no reason I could understand, I burst into tears .

Then ran into the house.


Walking back outside later and staring into the now empty sky,

I realized that in speaking not only had I been wishing the geese well for their

journey south but they had been using my voice and my breath

to wish me just-as-well on my own-just-as-difficult- journey – this journey

of opposition to the culture that is destroying life on this planet.

The tears,it came clear to me, had been neither for sorrow nor joy,

but for home coming, like a sailor that has been too long at sea,

and who spontaneously bursts into sobs on feeling those tentative

first steps back on solid ground, back at home.


If we are to suvive, we need the planet’s help, just as it

needs ours. To dismantle the walls we’ve so laboriously constructed

to constrict our broken hearts, we must step away from our isolation

from the rest  of the world. There is a whole world

waiting for us, ready to welcome us home.

They have missed us as sorely as we have missed them.

It is time. Return. Godspeed.


Derrick Jensen




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 these 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. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion …. [W]e are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest …. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud …. To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking …. I have the immense joy of being man, 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 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.


–Thomas Merton (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)


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“First of all, although men have a common destiny, each individual also
has to work out his own personal salvation for himself in fear and
trembling.  We can help one another to find out the meaning of life, no
doubt.  But in the last analysis the individual person is responsible
for living his own life and for ‘finding himself.’  If he persists in
shifting this responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the
meaning of his own existence.”

Thomas Merton

“I understand very well, father! For the sake of God teach me how to obtain it,” I exclaimed with joy.

“We shall read about how to learn this prayer in the book called the Philokalia. It contains the complete and detailed sci­ence of unceasing interior prayer, expounded by twenty-five holy fathers. So sublime and profitable is this book that, it is revered as the chief and primary guide to the contemplative spiritual life and, as Saint Nikiphoros expresses, ‘it leads to salvation with­out labor and fasts.'”

“Is it then more sublime and holy than the Bible?” I asked.

“No, it is not more sublime nor is it holier than the Bible, but it does contain lucid explanations of what the Bible holds mysti­cally and what cannot be easily grasped by our short-sighted mind. I will give you an example of this. The sun is the greatest, most bril­liant, and most excellent luminary of the heavens, but you cannot contemplate it and examine it with the naked eye. You need a piece of treated artificial glass and although it is a million times smaller and duller than the sun, with the glass you can examine this magnificent emperor of the heavenly luminaries, admire it and attract its fiery rays. In the same way Sacred Scripture is a brilliant sun and the Philokalia is the necessary piece of glass which facilitates our access to that most sublime luminary. Listen now and I will read by what means unceasing interior prayer is to be learned.”

The elder opened the Philokalia, searched for an instruction of Saint Symeon the New Theologian and began: “Sit in silence and alone. Bend your head. Close your eyes. Breathe ever more quietly. With the imagination look inside your heart. Carry your intellect, that is your thought, out of your head and into your heart. As you breathe say quietly with your lips or in your intellect alone: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’… Try to drive away your thoughts. Keep restful patience and repeat this process very frequently.”

The Pilgrim’s Tale (Classics of Western Spirituality)

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