About jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Humanities at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press (2001). He lives with his wife Carole, two Jack Russell terriers, Jett & Penny, & a Chocolate Lab, Angel, on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

Thomas Merton

For an essay I’m writing, I had occasion to take a look at Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal. I am a Zen practitioner & I grew up in the 1960s – 70s at a time when Merton, Alan Watts & others were popularizing Buddhism in general & Zen in particular. (Watts became a leading exponent of Zen without ever practicing zazen, sitting meditation, which is at the center of Zen.) Merton was a Trappist monk who interested himself in many other religious traditions; like Watts & Aldous Huxley, he tended to elide distinctions between Buddhism & Hinduism, which strikes me as intellectually sloppy. This may be an unfair judgment based on slim acquaintance, but Merton strikes me as kind of a drip. Self-involved, declamatory, aggressively synthesizing–a spiritual tourist. At least in these journals. But then, having fled from the Christians who harried me in my childhood, I have never understood, either before or after becoming a Zen student, the desire to bring Jesus & Gautama into harmony. I’m a pretty thorough-going pluralist, too, so I just don’t see the usefulness of this sort of religious syncretism.

Zen & Etc.

Heading off tomorrow for sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery, where I became a “formal student” earlier this year. When I return, I expect to begin posting again in this space. Despite the headlong progression & proliferation of social media, I still like the old-fashioned feel of the weblog. (I can remember when blogs were cutting edge!). And though I am reticent about discussing it, perhaps I’ll say a few words about how I have come to practice Zen. (In the original monastic order established by the Buddha, one of the few grave violations that could get a monk expelled was to claim spiritual powers one did not possess.) We’ve had a long, cold spring, but the sun is out this morning & the weeds are growing: I’m going to spend some time in the garden today.