Obsession With Doctrinal Formulas – 6 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Zen and the Birds of Appetite

by Mark Votava

51U9ehoviBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Distinguishing, judging, categorizing and classifying

“The trouble is that as long as you are given to distinguishing, judging, categorizing and classifying – or even contemplating – you are superimposing something else on the pure mirror. You are filtering the light through a system as if convinced that this will improve the light.”

2. 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.”

3. Obsession with doctrinal formulas

“This obsession with doctrinal formulas, juridical order and ritual exactitude has often made people forget that the heart of Catholicism, too, is a living experience of unity in Christ which far transcends all conceptual formulations. What too often has been overlooked, in consequence, is that Catholicism is the taste and experience of eternal life… Too often the Catholic has imagined himself obliged to stop short at a mere correct and external belief expressed in good moral behavior, instead of entering fully into the life of hope and love consummated by union with the invisible God ‘in Christ and in the Spirit’ thus fully sharing in the Divine Nature.”

4. Grounded in authentic truth and love

“When man is grounded in authentic truth and love the roots of desire themselves wither, brokenness is at an end, and truth is found in the wholeness and simplicity of Nirvana: perfect awareness and perfect compassion. Nirvana is the wisdom of perfect love grounded in itself and shining through everything, meeting with no opposition. The heart of brokenness is then seen for what it was: an illusion, but a persistent and invincible illusion of the isolated ego-self, setting itself up in opposition to love, demanding that its own desire be accepted as the law of the universe, and hence suffering from the fact that by its desire it is fractured in itself and cut off from the loving wisdom in which it should be grounded.”

5. The Kingdom of God within us

“The Recovery of Paradise is the discovery of the ‘Kingdom of God within us,’ to use the Gospel expression in the sense in which it has been applied by the Christian mystics…”

6. What was there all along

“In any case the ‘death of the old man’ is not the destruction of personality but the dissipation of an illusion, and the discovery of the new man is the realization of what was there all along, at least as a radical possibility, by reason of the fact that man is the image of God.”

How have you moved from obsession with doctrinal formulas to living experience in your spirituality?

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist