4 Traitz Lauren

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This week I want to write about the Thomas Merton reading because both the claims made in Zen and the Birds of Appetite and Zen in general resonate with me deeply. Throughout the book, Thomas Merton claims that the mystical and experiential “kernel” of Christianity–and perhaps all religions–is comparable to the Zen experience of “suchness” and “the quest for the direct and pure experience…liberated from verbal formulas and linguistic preconceptions” (Merton, 44). In quoting Eckhart, Merton illustrates how the ultimate Christian experience of “pure heart” and being one with Christ is analogous to the Zen practice of returning to “groundless being.” For example, while Zen calls for undermining all structures in favor of a unity in which seeming contradictions co-exist, Eckhart similarly claims: “The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out…you come to the One that gathers all things up into itself” (Merton, 14). This argument touched me because in my life I feel that I have come across the same basic ideas over and over again, from many different sources, from different time periods, different locations. I have always felt that it is significant that people who have never met or talked to each other arrive at the same understanding, or perhaps sense, of how things are. Does this mean it is real or just real for human beings? Is there any difference? Another thing that really resonated with me is Merton and DT Suzuki’s description of the “double equation,” zero = infinity and infinity = zero (Merton, 110). This suggests not that everything is Nirvana and therefore samsara, “the world of forms,” should be abandoned, but rather that if everything is nirvana, or nothing or “suchness,” then samsara too is an expression of nothingness; nothing is everything and vice versa. This is why Merton clarifies: “Buddhism prefers to speak of ‘emptiness,’ not because it conceives the ultimate as mere nothingness and void, but because it is aware of the non-limitation and nondefinition of the infinite;” the infinite of which everything is a part and thus, just as much the infinite (Merton 85). Moreover, this view seems to be compatible with animism, in the sense that everything in the perceived world is sacred, as it is an expression of the unity.

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