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.