Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thomas Merton, Ecumenism and the Fruit of Contemplation

Thomas Merton
The word "contemplate," meaning "to view with attention" is derived from the Latin 'con + templum' signifying "an open space for observation." Thus, the modern contemplative - like the near-enlightened Trappist monk, Thomas Merton - might be seen as the person whose mind provides him or her the open space for the observation of the realities of consciousness and being that exist beneath the external 'realities' of our common lives.

In his book, "Mystics and Zen Masters" (as well as in the attached video),  Merton examines the depth and commonality of this open, contemplative experience, and discusses what the "ecumenism" of religions revealed by a common contemplative life has to offer as an aspiration for the non-contemplative.
"(G)enuine ecumenism," writes Merton, "requires the communication and sharing, not only of information about doctrines which are totally and irrevocably divergent, but also of religious intuitions and truths which may turn out to have something in common, beneath surface differences."

"Ecumenism," he observes, "seeks the inner and ultimate spiritual "ground" which underlies all articulated differences. A genuinely fruitful dialogue cannot be content with a polite diplomatic interest in other religions and their beliefs. It seeks a deeper level, on which religious traditions have always claimed to bear witness to a higher and more personal knowledge of God that that which is contained simply in exterior worship and formulated doctrines."

"In all religions," he notes, "we encoutner not only the claim to (divine) revelation in some form or other, but also the record of special experiences in which the absolute and final vailidity of that revelation is in some way attested."

"Furthermore," he points out, "in all religions it is more or less generally recognized that this profound "sapiential" experience, call it gnosis, contemplation, "mysticism," "prophecy," or what you will, represents the deepest and the most authentic fruit of the religion itself. All religions, then, seek a "summit" of holiness, of experience, of inner transformation to which their believers - or an elite of believers - aspire because they hope, so to speak, to incarnate in their own lives the highest values in which they believe.
In the following video, a letter which Merton addressed to one of his many correspondents is used to highlight the fruit of the gnostic consciousness that is experienced by the true contemplative - a higher consciousness which is available to us all, regardless of religious tradition.

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