Zen and the Birds of Appetite

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New Directions Publishing, 1968 - Philosophy - 141 pages
"Zen enriches no one," Thomas Merton provocatively writes in his opening statement to Zen and the Birds of Appetite--one of the last books to be published before his death in 1968. "There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle for a while... but they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the 'nothing, ' the 'no-body' that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey." This gets at the humor, paradox, and joy that one feels in Merton's discoveries of Zen during the last years of his life, a joy very much present in this collection of essays. Exploring the relationship between Christianity and Zen, especially through his dialogue with the great Zen teacher D.T. Suzuki, the book makes an excellent introduction to a comparative study of these two traditions, as well as giving the reader a strong taste of the mature Merton. Never does one feel him losing his own faith in these pages; rather one feels that faith getting deeply clarified and affirmed. Just as the body of "Zen" cannot be found by the scavengers, so too, Merton suggests, with the eternal truth of Christ

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User Review  - cjbanning - LibraryThing

I take it for granted that if you want to understand Zen, then reading the work of a Catholic monk is probably not the way to do it. Merton's account of a Zen which is radically divorceable from the ... Read full review

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User Review  - Arctic-Stranger - LibraryThing

It is a shame that Fr. Merton died before his thoughts on Eastern religions and Christianity were fully germinated. Here Merton takes us on a tourist path through Zen, and shows places where he thinks ... Read full review

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Page 39 - That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
Page 10 - ... highest parting occurs when, for God's sake, he takes leave of god. St. Paul took leave of god for God's sake and gave up all that he might get from god, as well as all he might give — together with every idea of god. In parting with these, he parted with god for God's sake and yet God remained to him as God is in his own nature — not as he is conceived by anyone to be — nor yet as something to be achieved — but more as an "is-ness,
Page 116 - I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise. And it was almost the sixth hour; and there •was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour: and the sun was darkened; and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst: and Jesus crying •with a loud voice, said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. And saying this, He gave up the ghost. Here...
Page 55 - ... can we more than indicate briefly here the well-known importance of direct experience in the New Testament. This is of course to be sought above all in the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the mysterious Gift in which God becomes one with the Believer in order to know and love Himself in the Believer. In the first two chapters of the first Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom: one which consists in the knowledge of words and statements, a rational, dialectical...
Page 44 - Let us not rashly take them as "proofs" but only as significant clues. Is it therefore possible to say that both Christians and Buddhists can equally well practice Zen? Yes, if by Zen we mean precisely the quest for direct and pure experience on a metaphysical level, liberated from verbal formulas and linguistic preconceptions.
Page 9 - God does not intend that man shall have a place reserved for him to work in, since true poverty of spirit requires that man shall be emptied of god and all his works, so that if God wants to act in the soul, he himself must be the place in which he acts...
Page 13 - The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out, for if you want the kernel you must break the shell.
Page 62 - One cannot understand Buddhism until one meets it in this existential manner, in a person in whom it is alive.
Page 110 - For if God once found a person as poor as this, he would take the responsibility of his own action and would himself be the scene of action, for God is one who acts within himself. It is here, in this poverty, that man regains the eternal being that once he was, now is, and evermore shall be." As I interpret Eckhart, God is at once the place where He works and the work itself. The place is zero or "Emptiness as Being," whereas the work which is carried on in the zeroplace is infinity or "Emptiness...
Page 132 - and " misery " are the names of two extremes, the utmost bounds whereof we know not : it is what " eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.

About the author (1968)

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, following his conversion to Catholicism and was ordained in 1949. During the 1960s, he was increasingly drawn into a dialogue between Eastern and Western religions and was actively engaged with domestic issues of war and racism.

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