Thomas Merton in speaking about this kind of prayer would say things like this:The fact is, however, that if you descend into the depths of your own spirit . . . and arrive somewhere near the center of what you are, you are confronted with the inescapable truth, at the very root of your existence, you are in constant and immediate and inescapable contact with the infinite power of God. (The Contemplative Life)And like this:In my first book on Centering Prayer, I offered a number of texts from the writings of Merton on this kind of prayer. But nowhere in his published writings have we found a really personal expression of his own use of the Prayer. Merton was a very private person. Although he published an autobiography and a number of personal journals, these were all carefully edited. However, in his letters Merton was sometimes quite open, especially with spiritual persons who he felt were aligned with him, even though they were of very different traditions. It is in a letter to a Sufi scholar, Aziz Ch. Abdul, that Merton gives a rather long and clear description of his ordinary way of praying:Now you ask about my method of meditation. Strictly speaking I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love. That is to say that it is centered on faith by which alone we can know the presence of God. One might say this gives my meditation the character described by the Prophet as "being before God as if you saw Him." Yet it does not mean imagining anything or conceiving a precise image of God, for to my mind this would be a kind of idolatry. On the contrary, it is a matter of adoring Him as invisible and infinitely beyond our comprehension, and realizing Him as all. My prayer tends very much to what you call fana. There is in my heart this great thirst to recognize totally the nothingness of all that is not God. My prayer is then a kind of praise rising up out of the center of Nothingness and Silence. If I am still present "myself" this I recognize as an obstacle. If He wills he can then make the Nothingness into a total clarity. If He does not will, then the Nothingness actually seems to itself to be an object and remains an obstacle. Such is my ordinary way of prayer, or meditation. It is not "thinking about" anything, but a direct seeking of the Face of the Invisible. Which cannot be found unless we become lost in Him who is Invisible.This is quite simply Centering Prayer.~ M. Basil Pennington, Centered Living: The Way of Centering Prayer (New York, NY: Image Book; Doubleday, 1988), 68-69 ~
(The below is excerpted from the above book, click to purchase, while I recommend this book, David Cloud holds some pretty legalistic positions.)
Merton was a great venerator of Mary. The first time he visited the Gethsemani Abbey he described it as "the Court of the Queen of Heaven" (John Talbot, The Way of the Mystic, p. 221). Merton's autobiography is filled with passionate statements about Mary. He calls her Our Lady, Glorious Mother of God, Queen of Angels, Holy Queen of Heaven, Most High Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix of All Grace, Our Lady of Solitude, Immaculate Virgin, Blessed Virgin, and Holy Queen of souls and refuge of sinners. He dedicated himself to her and prayed to her continually. Consider the following samples:"Glorious Mother of God, shall I ever again distrust you, or your God, before Whose throne you are irresistible in your intercession? ... As you have dealt with me, Lady, deal also with my millions of brothers who live in the same misery that I knew then: lead them in spite of themselves and guide them by your tremendous influence, 0 Holy Queen of souls and refuge of sinners, and bring them to your Christ the way you brought me" (Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 143, 144)."One of the big defects of my spiritual life in that first year was a lack of devotion to the Mother of God. I believed in the truths which the Church teaches about Our Lady, and I said the 'Hail Mary' when I prayed, but that is not enough. People do not realize the tremendous power of the Blessed Virgin. They do not know who she is: that IT IS THROUGH HER HANDS ALL GRACES COME BECAUSE GOD HAS WILLED THAT SHE THUS PARTICIPATE IN HIS WORK FOR THE SALVATION OF MEN.... She is the Mother of the supernatural life in us. Sanctity comes to us through her intercession. God has willed that there be no other way" (The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 251).
'When we crossed over the divide and were going down through the green valley towards the Caribbean Sea, I saw the yellow Basilica of Our Lady of Cobre [in Cuba] ... 'There you are, Caridad del Cobre! [Merton was praying to La Caridad, the black Madonna, the Queen of Cuba] It is you that I have come to see; you will ask Christ to make me His priest, and I will give you my heart, Lady: and if you will obtain for me this priesthood, I will remember you at my first Mass..." (p. 308).
"I realized truly whose house that was, 0 glorious Mother of God! ... It is very true that the Cistercian Order is your special territory and that those monks in white cowls are your special servants ... Their houses are all yours--Notre Dame, Notre Dame, all around the world. Notre Dame de Gethsemani I think the century of Chartres was most of all your century, my Lady, because it spoke of you clearest not only in word but in glass and stone, showing you for who you are, most powerful, most glorious, MEDIATRIX OF ALL GRACE, and the most High Queen of Heaven, high above all the angels, and throned in glory near the throne of your Divine Son" (p. 352).
Merton also prayed to a variety of Catholic saints, including Therese of Lisieux. He says, "I was immediately and strongly attracted to her" (The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 388). He not only prayed to her but he also dedicated himself to her, "If I get into the monastery, I will be your monk" (p. 400).
Merton was heavily involved in contemplative mysticism and promoted the integration of pagan practices such as Zen Buddhism and Hindu yoga with Christianity. He was "a strong builder of bridges between East and West" (Twentieth-Century Mystics, p. 39). Being dedicated to mystical idolatry of the Roman Catholic variety, it was not a great leap to mystical idolatry of the pagan variety.
Merton was influenced by Aldous Huxley, who found enlightenment through hallucinogenic drugs. Henri Nouwen said that Huxley brought Merton "to a deeper level of knowledge" and was his first contact with mysticism (Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic, 1991, pp. 19, 20)."He had read widely and deeply and intelligently in all kinds of Christian and Oriental mystical literature, and had come out with the astonishing truth that all this, far from being a mixture of dreams and magic and charlatanism, was very real and very serious" (Nouwen, Thomas Merton, p. 20).Alan Altany observes:"The pre-Christian Merton had come across Aldous Huxley's book on mysticism, Ends and Means, which sowed an attraction for not only mysticism in general, but for apophatic mysticism--meaning a knowledge of God obtained by negation--that would enable him to later relate to Buddhist teachings about the Void and Emptiness" ("The Thomas Merton Connection," Fall 2000, http://www.thomasmertonsociety.org/altany2.htm).Merton was a student of Zen master Daisetsu Suzuki and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Merton also studied mystical Islamic Sufism. He said, "I'm deeply impregnated with Sufism" (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Merton and Sufism, 1999, p. 109).
Sufis "chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances and experience God in everything" (Yungen, p. 59). They seek to achieve "fang," which is "the act of merging with the Divine Oneness." Some Sufis use dance and music to attain mystical union with God. I observed the "whirling dervish" ritual in Istanbul in April 2008. As they whirl in a trance-like state to the music the Sufi mystics raise the palm of one hand to heaven and the other to the earth, to channel the mystical experience.
The Yoga Journal makes the following observation:
"Merton had encountered Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism and Vedanta many years prior to his Asian journey. MERTON WAS ABLE TO UNCOVER THE STREAM WHERE THE WISDOM OF EAST AND WEST MERGE AND FLOW TOGETHER, BEYOND DOGMA, IN THE DEPTHS OF INNER EXPERIENCE.... Merton embraced the spiritual philosophies of the East and integrated this wisdom into (his) own life through direct practice" (Yoga Journal, Jan.-Feb. 1999, quoted from the Lighthouse Trails web site).
In fact, Merton claimed to be both a Buddhist and a Christian. The titles of books included Zen and the Birds of the Appetite, The Way of Chuang Tzu, and Mystics and the Zen Masters.
Merton said that he was both a Buddhist and a Hindu:"I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I INTEND TO BECOME AS GOOD A BUDDHIST AS I CAN" (David Steindl-Rast, "Recollection of Thomas Merton's Last Days in the West," Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969, http://www.gratefulness.org/readings/ dsr_merton_recol2.htm, this report contains quotations from Merton's talks at the Our Lady of the Redwoods Abbey in Whitethorn, California, in late 1968 on his way to Asia where he died).
"You have to see your will and God's will dualistically for a long time. You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it's not there. IN THIS RESPECT I AM A HINDU [here he was saying that he believed in Hindu monism rather than Christian dualism; that God is all and all is God]. Ramakrishna has the solution. ... Openness is all" ("Recollection of Thomas Merton's Last Days in the West," Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969, http:// www.gratefulness.org/readings/dsr_merton_reco12.htm).
"Asia, Zen, Islam, etc., all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these" (quoted by Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Merton and Sufism, p. 41).
"I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions" (quoted by William Shannon, Silent Lamp, 1992, p. 276).
"I think I couldn't understand Christian teaching the way I do if it were not in the light of Buddhism" (Frank Tuoti, The Dawn of the Mystical Age, 1997, p. 127).Merton defined mysticism as an experience with wisdom and God beyond words. In a speech to monks of eastern religions in Calcutta in October 1968 he said:"...the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. IT IS WORDLESS. IT IS BEYOND WORDS, AND IT IS BEYOND SPEECH, and it is BEYOND CONCEPT' ("Thomas Merton's View of Monasticism," a talk delivered at Calcutta, October 1978, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, Appendix III, 1975 edition, p. 308).Of Chuang Tzu (also called Zhuang Tze), a Chinese sage and one of the authors of Taoist principles, Merton said, "Chuang Tzu is not concerned with words and formulas about reality, but with the direct existential grasp of reality in itself" (Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, pp. 10-11). Merton called Chuang Tzu "my kind of person."
The Bible warns that "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. 15:33), and it is therefore not surprising that Merton was deeply influenced by his intimate association with pagan religions. Eventually he denied the God of the Bible, the reality of sin, the separation of man from God because of sin, the necessity of Christ's Atonement, the bodily resurrection, and hell.
Merton was a universalist. Nowhere did he say that Buddhists and Hindus and Sufis worshipped false gods or that they were hell-bound because they do not believe in Christ. When writing about Zen Buddhists, he always assumed that they were communing with the same "ground of Being" that he himself found through Catholic monasticism.
Merton used the terms God, Krishna, and Tao interchangeably."It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in himself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao" ("The Significance of the Bhagavad-Gita," The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, appendix ix, p. 353).Merton claimed that there is no reason to believe that God has not revealed himself to other religions."Since in practice we must admit that God is in no way limited in His gifts, and since there is no reason to think that He cannot impart His light to other men without first consulting us, THERE CAN BE NO ABSOLUTELY SOLID GROUNDS FOR DENYING THE POSSIBILITY OF SUPERNATURAL (PRIVATE) REVELATION AND OF SUPERNATURAL MYSTICAL GRACES TO INDIVIDUALS, NO MATTER WHERE THEY MAY BE OR WHAT MAY BE THEIR RELIGIOUS TRADITION, provided that they sincerely seek God and His truth. Nor is there any a priori basis for denying that the great prophetic and religious figures of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., could have been mystics, in the true, that is, supernatural, sense of the word" (Mystics and Zen Masters, p. 207).Merton could only write such a thing because he rejected the Bible as his sole authority for truth. Of course God doesn't have to consult us about anything, but He has chosen to reveal His mind in the Scripture and the Scripture plainly states that there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:26). In John 10 Jesus said that He is the door to God's sheepfold, and "he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1).
Merton taught that the "I" that is self-conscious is not the real "I," but that the real "r is already "united to God in Christ" and the self-conscious "I" will eventually disappear. He did not write this as true only for believers in Christ but for mankind in general (Twentieth-Century Mystics, p. 35).
He described mankind as "persons within whom God exists" and said that man glorifies God simply by being what he is (Twentieth-Century Mystics, p. 35). That certainly takes care of the guilt problem, but it is a false solution.
Merton begins his book Mystics and Zen Masters with a positive review of the evolutionary, universalist, cosmic Christ theories of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and R.C. Zaehner. Nowhere does he refute these views. Merton writes:"This implies, according to the Teilhardian view, a recognition that Christianity itself is the fruit of evolution and that the world has from the beginning, knowingly or not, been converging upon the Lord of History as upon its 'personal center' of fulfillment and meaning. ... We are thus in 'the passage from an epoch of individual despairs to one of shared hope in an ever richer material and spiritual life.'
"[Zaehner] sees an evolution in mysticism from the contemplation that seeks to discover and rest in the spiritual essence of the individual nature, to a higher personalist mysticism which transcends nature and the individual self in God together with other men in the Mystical Christ" (Mystics and Zen Masters, 1967, p. 5).In his last speech, given just hours before he was electrocuted, Merton called "original sin" a myth ("Marxism and Monastic Perspectives," a talk delivered at Bangkok on December 10, 1968, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, appendix VII, p. 332).
Merton rejected the view that non-Christians are lost sinners who are "all corrupted in their inner heart" and deceived by the devil (Mystics and Zen Masters, p. 206).
This, of course, is exactly what the Bible says about the person who does not believe on Christ and submit to God's Word in the Bible. They have no light (Isaiah 8:20). They have a deceived and desperately wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). They are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), controlled by the devil (Eph. 2:2), "having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12).
Merton adopted the belief that within every man is a pure spark of divine illumination, and that men can know God through a variety of paths:"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. It is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody. I have no program for saying this. It is only given, but the gate of heaven is everywhere" (Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton, 2007, DVD).Merton wrote:"It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race ... now I realize what we all are .... If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are ... I SUPPOSE THE BIG PROBLEM WOULD BE THAT WE WOULD FALL DOWN AND WORSHIP EACH OTHER.... At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth ... This little point ... is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody" (Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1989, pp. 157-158, cited from Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing).Merton said that monks of all religions are "brothers" and are "already one." He said:"I came with the notion of perhaps saying something for monks and to monks of all religions because I am supposed to be a monk. ... My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are" ("Thomas Merton's View of Monasticism," a talk delivered at Calcutta, October 1968, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 1975 edition, appendix III, p. 308).Merton was at the forefront of the interfaith movement that is powered by contemplative practices:"Thomas Merton was perhaps the greatest popularizer of interspirituality. He opened the door for Christians to explore other traditions, notably Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism" (Wayne Teasdale, Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions).
"Merton was consciously trying to relate the mystical insights of other traditions with his own Christian faith" (Teasdale, A Monk in the World, p. 181).Merton believed that the key to interfaith dialogue is to ignore doctrine and dogma and focus on mystic contemplative experience."Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas... But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light... It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam" (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Merton and Sufism, p. 109).Personally, what Merton found in meditation was the same as what Mother Teresa found: only darkness. He said:"God, my God, God who I meet in darkness, with you it is always the same thing, always the same question that nobody knows how to answer. I've prayed to you in the daytime with thoughts and reasons, and in the nighttime. I've explained to you a hundred times my motives for entering the monastery, and you have listened and said nothing. And I have turned away and wept with shame. Perhaps the most urgent and practical renunciation is the renunciation of all questions, because I have begun to realize that you never answer when I expect" (Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton, 2007, DVD)."The hermit, all day and all night, beats his head against a wall of doubt. That is his contemplation" (quoted from Tony Jones, The Sacred Way, p. 41).When Merton was 51 and was in the hospital for a back operation he developed a romantic relationship with his 24-yearold nurse. He pursued this relationship over a period of months during his trips out of the monastery for follow up and rehabilitation. According to , he broke "all his vows" but he did not marry the girl.
Two years later, in 1969, Merton took the trip of his dreams, to visit India, Ceylon, Singapore, and Thailand, to experience the places where his beloved eastern religions were born. He said, "I'm going home, to a home I've never been in this body."
On the first stop of his trip, in Calcutta, Merton said that he had come to Asia as a pilgrim seeking wisdom from "ancient sources":"I come as a pilgrim who is anxious to obtain not just information, not just 'facts' about other monastic traditions, but to drink from ancient sources of monastic vision and experience" (The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, pp. 312, 313).One of his goals was to search out a location for a Christian-Buddhist monastery. He described this in his diary of the trip in connection with a conversation with a Buddhist leader in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).We talked long about my idea of Buddhist dialogue and of a meditation monastery that would be open to Buddhism" (The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, p. 218).In India, Merton met with the Dalai Lama three times at length and said "there is a real spiritual bond between us" (The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 1975 edition, p. 125). The Dalai Lama agreed. When he eventually visited Merton's grave at Gethsemani Abbey, he prayed, "Now our spirits are one" (http:// www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jan1997/featurel.asp , 10/8/2002).
In Sri Lanka Merton visited a Buddhist shrine by the ocean at Polonnaruwa, the ancient capitol."The path dips down to Gal Vihara: a wide, quiet, hollow, surrounded with trees. A low outcrop of rock, with a cave cut into it, and beside the cave a big seated Buddha on the left, a reclining Buddha on the right, and Ananda, I guess, standing by the head of the reclining Buddha. In the cave, another seated Buddha. The vicar general, shying away from 'paganism,' hangs back and sits under a tree reading the guidebook. I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing... without trying to discredit anyone or anything--without refutation--without establishing some other argument" (The Asian Journal, p. 233).This alleged wisdom is a complete denial of the Bible, which teaches us that there is truth and there is error, light and darkness, God and Satan, and they are not one. The apostle John said, "And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19). True wisdom lies in testing all things by God's infallible Revelation and rejecting that which is false. Proverbs says, "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going" (Prov. 14:15).
Merton described his visit to the Buddhas as an experience of great illumination, a vision of "inner clearness." His complete capitulation to Buddhism was evident in the final words that he wrote about his experience with the idols:"The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no 'mystery.' All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya ... Everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination" (The Asian Journal, p. 235).Dharmakaya refers to the eternal aspect of Buddha. Merton was expressing the panentheistic belief that God permeates everything.
This was a demonic delusion on par with Merton's mystical experiences with the Mass and Mary.
Six days later Merton was electrocuted in a cottage in Bangkok by a faulty fan switch. He was there to attend a dialogue of contemplative mystics, both Catholic and Buddhist. He was fifty -three years old.
Merton has many disciples in the Roman Catholic Church, including David Steindle-Rast, M. Basil Pennington, William Johnston, Henri Nouwen, Philip St. Romain, William Shannon, and James Finley. There is an International Thomas Merton Society and a Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.