Verbal Formulas – 10 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Zen and the Birds of Appetite

by Mark Votava

51U9ehoviBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Mysterious signs and challenges

“There is no question that the Christian mystics, though repudiated by some Christians, remain mysterious signs and challenges to those who, though they remain outside the Church and are confirmed ‘unbelievers,’ nevertheless still seek a deeper dimension of consciousness…  They are attracted by the mystical consciousness but repelled equally by the triumphalist institution of the Church and by the activist and the aggressive noisiness of some progressives.”

2. An intuition of a ground of openness

“The metaphysical intuition of Being is an intuition of a ground of openness, indeed of a kind of ontological openness and an infinite generosity which communicates itself to everything that is…  Openness is not something to be acquired, but a radical gift that has been lost and must be recovered (though it is still in principle ‘there’ in the roots of our created being)…”

3. Summoning to community

“God is present not as the experienced transcendent presence which is ‘wholly other’ and reduces everything else to insignificance, but in an inscrutable word summoning to community with other men…”

4. Idealistic philosophy that removes all reality

“There is no longer any place for the kind of idealistic philosophy that removes all reality into the celestial realms and makes temporal existence meaningless…  Man needs to find ultimate sense here and now in the ordinary humble tasks and human problems of every day.”

5. The great obstacle to mutual understanding

“Now the great obstacle to mutual understanding between Christianity and Buddhism lies in the Western tendency to focus not on the Buddhist experience, which is essential, but on the explanation, which is accidental and which indeed Zen often regards as completely trivial and even misleading.”

6. To pay attention, to become aware, to be mindful

“Buddhist meditation, but above all that of Zen, seeks not to explain but to pay attention, to become aware, to be mindful, in other words to develop a certain kind of consciousness that is above and beyond deception by verbal formulas – or by emotional excitement.  Deception in what?  Deception in its grasp of itself as it really is.  Deception due to diversion and distraction from what is right there – consciousness itself.”

7. To neglect the experience

“It cannot be repeated too often: in understanding Buddhism it would be a great mistake to concentrate on the ‘doctrine,’ the formulated philosophy of life, and to neglect the experience, which is absolutely essential, the very heart of Buddhism…”

8. The great importance of experience

“…we must not neglect the great importance of experience in Christianity…”

9. We only need to wake up

“If one reaches the point where understanding fails, this is not a tragedy: it is simply a reminder to stop thinking and start looking.  Perhaps there is nothing to figure out after all: perhaps we only need to wake up.”

10. Verbal formulas and conceptual structures

“But when one has been freed from dependence on verbal formulas and conceptual structures, the Cross becomes a source of ‘power’…”

Which quotes do you like the best?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.

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