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Mystics and Zen Masters Paperback – November 29, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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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.

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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 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Incantessimo 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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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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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
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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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