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Mystics and Zen Masters Paperback – November 29, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (November 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374520011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374520014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, is perhaps the foremost spiritual thinker of the twentiethcentury. His diaries, social commentary, and spiritual writings continue to be widely read after his untimely death in 1968.

More About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has millions of copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Nessander VINE VOICE on February 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Although this book is a collection of essays over a range of subjects, and therefore not a continuous work, it is a very valuable work for understanding Chinese religion, Zen, and European mysticism (the main topics it addresses). The essays are classicaly Merton, although they are written in a more academic style -- and perhaps this is why the book has drawn criticism from the other reviewers. In other words, this book is less for learning about prayer and contemplation for one's own daily practice, and more for delving a bit deeper into some of the technical and historical aspects of Zen and Christian mysticism. For those interested in the latter, however, Merton does a very good job. His understanding of Zen is remarkable for someone who did not engage in it firsthand and who (I assume) learned about it primarily from reading while he was in the monastery. The first essay (with the same title as the book) gives a very interesting and understandable account of the break between the Northern and Southern schools, and the Zen of Hui-neng vs. the Zen of Hsen-hsiu.
So, although this book may not be for everyone, it is still a very fine work and will be very beneficial for many readers.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Crazy Fox on February 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book consists of a number of essays written at different times, and though the range of topics seem quite varied at first (which isn't necessarily a bad thing--we call it the "spice of life" after all), a little thought will show the unifying theme to be the contemplative traditions within the world religions, principally Buddhism and Christianity. It is also apparent that several of the essays were originally book reviews, but Merton's incredible writing style and deep spirituality transform this usually cut-and-dried format into an art in itself.

It was also salutary to see a Catholic actually take Vatican II's directions on other religious traditions seriously, instead of rationalizing this away in favor of one's own arrogant sense of religious superiority (which bears a family resemblance to the pride of Satan). Even more salutary to see a Catholic able to do so with a firm, solid, secure sense of his own religious identity and spiritual tradition (there is no mishmash of "all religions are the same" here).

Since the essays were originaly written in the 1960's, some of the characterizations of Zen Buddhism are a bit dated, which isn't Merton's fault but the reader should still be alert to this fact. His discussions on this subject also owe much to D.T. Suzuki's eccentric, unorthodox formulations of Zen and so end up a bit skewed in spots, and Suzuki may also be a baneful influence in Merton's uncharacteristic use of cliched stereotypes of "the Eastern Mind" and "the Western Mind"--as seen especially in the essay "The Zen Koan". Still, overall Merton's presentation of Zen is reliable and "sympathetically objective" (as he puts it) and his own monastic experience doubtlessly gives him a realistic grounding when approaching the subject.
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44 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Thomas Merton researched this book thoroughly by pouring through obscure and not-so-obscure texts in many classifications and countries. The book is a tracing of the development of each of the religions throughout their known records, with comparisons to major ideologies. English and Russian Mystics are delved into, as well as religion in China, early Buddhism, the Tao and the Jesuit's presence there. Christianity's high points are scanned. Monasticism is explored in both Protestantism and Zen Buddhism. Although it reads like a PhD. dissertation, Mystics and Zen Masters comes to some valuable conclusions about the evolution and the future to come of some of our world religions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, as well as a best-selling writer, poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. He wrote many books, including The Seven Storey Mountain (Harvest/HBJ Book), Zen and the Birds of Appetite, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books). Tragically, he was accidentally electrocuted while in Thailand at a conference of Christian and non-Christian monks.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1966 book, "if anyone should be open to these Oriental traditions and interested in them, it should be the contemplative monks of the Western monastic orders... The author has attempted not merely to look at these other traditions from the outside, but, in some measure at least, to try to share in the values and the experience which they embody."

He notes early on, "for Zen there is absolutely no evidence of a personal center of convergence in the New Testament sense. (Though the concept of the Buddha-nature as central to all being might be considered in some way analogous to this...") (Pg. 7) Later, he suggests that "the Zen of Hui Neng comes rather close to the Gospels and St. Paul, though on the ontological rather than on a specifically religious level." (Pg. 34) He identifies the 67th chapter of the Tao Te Ching as "one of the most profound and the most akin to Christianity." (Pg.
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