The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

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DateAuthorTitleSourceQuotation by Merton
1938/08/11 Bhagavad Gita Ltrs: RtoJ p. 142-43 Truthfully I have an enormous obscure subtle thesis that Blake is all full of Indian and Chinese theories of art, for a certainty. That he has read the Bhagavad Gita, I have found out, and then found out that others know this well. But they have not gone into this as I intend, and they say nothing of his art anyway, only explain he was tussling with the druids every word he wrote. But I do not up and be a loud roaring fellow and a stupid shit saying how Blake picked up some old Chinese book and writ down all his theories of art and poetry. I say how he knew about the Indian works from books of travel, how he read the Gita, how he was anyhow a fine mystic, how he read strange histories about the east all full of half modern ideas about how one race influences another through means of etymology, and the Greeks weren't so smart as to be all holy and full of truth of their own for that they swiped everything from India and Egypt the book states clearly. This Blake read. Anyhow he hated Plato "¦
1958/09/26Charles Freer AndrewsMahatma Gandhi: His Life and Works Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 218 Yesterday in Louisville... After that, had a good day in the library. Some C. F. Andrews on Gandhi (the concept of svadharma [personal service] important for me!). A book on Etruscan painting; some Latin American prints (good ones by Portinari). Looked briefly at Kierkegaard's Either/Or. Tatum, St. [an] Getz, etc. on record. New Statesman and Nation-special number on American Lit. with a tender essay by V. S. Pritchett on the Beat Generation, and what seemed to me a very good, or at least readable, poem by Lowell about his father.
1959/04/10Ananda Kentish CoomaraswamyPaths that Lead to the Same Summit Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 272 "The time is coming when it will be necessary for the man who is to be called ‘educated' to know either Arabic, Sanskrit, or Chinese, as it is now for him to read Latin, Greek, or Hebrew." Coomaraswamy. But now an educated man is not even expected to know Latin. In fact many apparently "educated" people in America do not even know English-or one vernacular language. What is the conclusion if the "educated" do not even know their own language well? I would like very much to learn Chinese or Japanese and am seriously considering whether it would not be far better than trying to learn Russian.
1960/05/25Joseph Jean Lanza del VastoPelerinage aux Sources Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 3-4 Reading [Joseph Jean] Lanza del Vasto, Le Pèlerinage aux Sources [Paris, 1945]. His account of Gandhi and Wardha is impressive. I am still not persuaded that the spinning wheels were so foolish. It is customary in the West to dismiss all that as absurd, and to assume that technological progress is an unqualified good, as excellent as it is inevitable. But it becomes more and more passive, automatic-and the effects on "backward" people more and more terrible.
1960/06/05Joseph Jean Lanza del VastoPeleinage aux Sources Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 6-7 Yesterday, under pressure, finished the galleys of Disputed Questions with my eyes stinging. Hot, I took a cold shower and went out and read a little of Paul Landsperg on Personalism and Lanza del Vasto on his pilgrimage to the sources of the Ganges. (How much better and more serious than Paul Brunton - Del Vasto's seriousness springs from the fact that he is a Christian, and this permits him to go deeper into yoga, get closer to it, and to the people who understand it. Del Vasto, as a religious man, is one of them. Brunton, an agnostic, remains comparatively a tourist.) Landsperg too is excellent.
1960/06/10Joseph Jean Lanza del VastoPelerinage aux Sources Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 10 Finished Lanza del Vasto two evenings ago and am getting to the end of H. Arendt-The Human Condition.
1960/08/20VinobaTalks on the Gita (Translators have retained some essential Sanskrit words) / Vinoba ; introd. by Jayaprakash Narayan Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 33-34 Wonderful book by [Acharya] Vinoba [Bhave], Talks on the Gita [New York, 1960]-sent by Lax. Began it yesterday. Just what I need at the moment. I am very grateful to be in contact with L. Massignon and through him, with C. de Foucauld. This a very great grace. A fine statement from Vinoba (p. 32). "The action of the person who acts without desire should be much better than that of the person who acts with desire. This is only proper; for the latter is attracted to the fruit, and a part, much or little, of his time and attention will be spent on thoughts and dreams of the fruit. But all the time and all the strength of the man who has no desire for the fruit is devoted to the action." I can certainly apply this to my present case!
1960/12/27Ananda Kentish CoomaraswamyHinduism and Buddhism Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 80 Incomparable richness of Coomaraswamy! His book on Hinduism and Buddhism. I am giving it a first reading in which I do not expect to understand and appreciate everything. One point-already familiar-driven home more: Whatever is done naturally may be either sacred or profane according to our own degree of awareness, but whatever is done unnaturally is essentially and irrevocably profane! (p. 25).
1961/01/26Paul EvdokimovOrthodoxie Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 91 Evdokimov on orthodoxy - once again, as I have so many times recently, I meet the concept of natura naturans [nature acting according to its nature] - the divine wisdom in ideal nature, the ikon of wisdom, the dancing ikon - the summit reached by so many non-Christian contemplatives (would that it were reached by a few Christians!) Summit of Vedanta? - Faith in Sophia, natura naturans, the great stabilizer today - for peace. The basic hope that people have that man will somehow not be completely destroyed is hope in natura naturans. - The dark face, the "night fac" of Sophia - pain, trouble, pestilence.
1961/02/04 ten principal Upanishads / put into English by Shree Purohit, swami, and W.B. Yeats Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 92-93 Tremendous discovery. The Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad! Kairos! Everything for a long time has been slowly leading up to this, and with this reading - sudden convergence of roads, tendencies, lights, in unity! A new door. (Looked at it without comprehension 9 months ago.) Yesterday's disgust with the trivial, shallow contemporary stuff I am tempted to read! No time for that. Scriptures. Greek patrology. Oriental thought. This enough to fill every free corner of the day not given to prayer, meditation, duties.
1961/03/19Arthur KoestlerLotus and the Robot Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 101 Finishing [Arthur] Koestler's book on Asia, The Lotus and the Robot [London, 1960]. Though there are plenty of passages where one has the feeling that he did not catch on, still I think the book is important and offers a basically healthy corrective for the Western intellectual's guilt complex toward Asia. What he says of Asia's spirituality vs. Western materialism is pert[inent], but perhaps has truth in it.
1962/05/07Bernard PiaultWhat Is the Trinity Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 217-18 "If India were to hear the word of Christ and be converted, it is possible that she would be hardly capable of considering the divine mystery in the ways traditional to the Christian East and West, full of living inspiration though they are. Young in the faith and proud of her own cultural heritage, she might give us instead a Hindu theology of the Trinity." - Bernard Piault in What Is the Trinity? [New York, 1959], p 118 Especially in getting away from the Augustinian psychological treatment of the mystery. In the theology of the Trinity as we have it in the West we are under the domination of Augustine's introspective and generally non-mystical contemplation that is centered on the self as medium to that which is above the self. Meeting of the logos and the soul in the soul's concept of itself, experience of itself?? Surely not mere reflection on our own experience of ourself and hence to the Trinity by inference. It must be more than that.
1962/08/27Vinoba BhaveTalks on the Gita Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 239 Returned, after a long time, to the unfinished book by Vinoba Bhave on the Gita. Great nobility and seriousness. A most practical and meaningful book about the conduct of life. Thirst for wisdom!
1962/11/05Denys RutledgeIn Search of a Yogi Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 263 Saturday I finished a preface to Dom Denys Rutledge's book In Search of a Yogi [New York, 1963]. It rambles too much, and he is too sarcastic in places - though I can understand the temptation. There is an aura of pretentiousness that gets into Indian religiosity sometimes - perhaps as a reaction to Christian claims to be absolutely the only true religion.
1963/02/25Joseph Jean Lanza del VastoPelerinage aux Sources Ltrs: CforT p. 138 Yes, I know Lanza Del Vasto. There was a Jewish student of mysticism here who had visited the Community of L del V and spoke highly of it. I have also read what I think is his most interesting book, Le Pelerinage aux sources (i.e. to the sources of the Ganges). He is great friends with Victoria Ocampo. I have read parts of the "4 Plagues" and it is terrific. I have also read fine articles of his in peace publications. Talking of Victoria Ocampo: her friends got up a volume of Testimonios for her, and I was included: they put my name as "Thomas Merton S.J." "¦
1963/07/19 Bhagavad Gita Ltrs: WtoF p. 166 The following are the questions, with Merton's answers: 1. Name the last three books you have read. The Platform Scripture of Hui Neng, translated by Wing Tsit Chen The Proslogion by St. Anselm of Canterbury A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley 2. Name the books you are reading now. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture by John Huizinga Ratio Verae Theologiae (The Real Meaning of Theology) by Erasmus The Historian and Character by David Knowles 4. Books that have influenced you. Poetic Works of William Blake Plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas Sermons of Meister Eckhart De Doctrina Christiana, Confessions, and Sermons on Psalms of St. Augustine Rule of St. Benedict The Bhagavad-Gita The Imitation of Christ, etc. 5. Why have these books been an influence on you? These books and others like them have helped me to discover the real meaning of my life, and have made it possible for me to get out of the confusion and meaninglessness of an existence completely immersed in the needs and passivities fostered by a culture in which sales are everything. 6. Name a book everyone should read. Besides the Bible (taken for granted and not included above) and such classics as The Imitation of Christ, I would select a contemporary book which I consider to be of vital importance and which I think everyone should read at this time: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. 7. Why this book? This is the most forceful statement about a crisis that is of immediate importance to every American, and indirectly affects the whole world today. It is something that people have to know about. The Negro has been trying to make himself heard: in this book he succeeds.
1963/10/30Robert Charles ZaehnerHindu and Muslim Mysticism Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 30 Finally getting into Zaehner's Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, a remarkable book. And convincing.
1965/06/17Frithjof SchuonLanguage of the self / Frithjof Schuon ; transl. by Marco Pallis and Macleod Matheson Ltrs: HGL p. 470 I have been wanting to tell you how much I have benefited by your translations of Guenon and Schuon. Not only the material, but also your own translations, which, I think, contribute much clarity to the originals. I meant to write you after Easter when I had finished the Guenon book on Crisis. Now I do so when I am in the middle of Schuon on the Language of the Self. The Guenon book is certainly a classic, and I appreciate Schuon more and more. The essay on Buddhism, for example, is most excellent. I am at one with him in his deep reverence for the spirituality of the North American Indian. Of that, more at some other time. The Indians of this country are a sign of the age, silent and frequently mistreated, at least in their legal rights. One feels that there is still, among some of them, a deep consciousness of their real calling, and a hidden hope. Yet there must also be much real despair among them. I have always had a secret desire to be among them in some way, and of course there is no fulfilling this, and it would tend to be highly ambiguous in any event.
1965/06/22Denys RutledgeIn Search of a Yogi Ltrs: HGL p. 338 Your long and interesting letter puts me, I am afraid, in a rather delicate position. Having written a preface to Dom Denys Rutledge's book, I suppose I ought to consider myself obliged to defend it. I am afraid I do not intend to do this "¦ "¦ I wrote the preface at the request of the editor, who is also my own editor and publisher "¦ Reading the book I was myself quite aware of the author's limitations as an Englishman, as a perhaps conservative Catholic type, etc. I could see that though he was earnestly trying to be open-minded, he was hemmed in by some characteristic prejudices and limitations of perspective. On the other hand "¦ I was willing to accept it for the good it contained. In fact, it seemed to me that for all the shortsightedness and lack of perspective, the author was sincere in his "search for a yogi," and what got through to me (I think I say this in the preface) was that he did find some really authentic people, even though he may not have looked in the best places for them.
1967/01/10Amiya Chandra ChakravartyTagore Reader Ltrs: HGL p. 113 I am very grateful for your kind letter and for the other package of books. I am especially glad to have the ones on India, and I am bent on continuing to read about Hindu thought and deepening my appreciation of it. I am particularly glad to have your Tagore Reader, which seems to me to be much better than another collection of his that I have.
1968/04/18AshtavakraAshtavakra gita / Ashtavakra ; transl. by Hari Prasad Shastri Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 82 Reading a good book by Nasr on Islam. And this afternoon, in the sun, out on the quiet bottom by the creek, began the Ashtavakra Gita"”very much what I have been needing.
1968/05/06AshtavakraAshtavakra gita / Ashtavakra ; transl. by Hari Prasad Shastri Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 94 O'Hare, big fish with tail fins elevated in light smog One leaves earth. "Not seeing, he appears to see." (Astavakra Gita)
1968/05/16 Bhagavad Gita Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 103 Technology as Karma. What can be done has to be done. The burden of possibility that has to be fulfilled, possibilities which demand so imperatively to be fulfilled that everything else is sacrificed for their fulfillment. Computer Karma in American civilization. Distinguish work as narcotic (that is being an operator and all that goes with it) from healthy and free work. But also consider the wrong need for non-action. The Astavakra Gita says: "Do not let the fruit of action be your motive and do not be attached to nonaction." In other words, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Work to please God alone. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "By devotion in work He knows me, knows what in truth I am and who I am. Then having known me in truth, He enters into me."
1968/05/16AshtavakraAshtavakra gita / Ashtavakra ; transl. by Hari Prasad Shastri Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 103 Technology as Karma. What can be done has to be done. The burden of possibility that has to be fulfilled, possibilities which demand so imperatively to be fulfilled that everything else is sacrificed for their fulfillment. Computer Karma in American civilization. Distinguish work as narcotic (that is being an operator and all that goes with it) from healthy and free work. But also consider the wrong need for non-action. The Astavakra Gita says: "Do not let the fruit of action be your motive and do not be attached to nonaction." In other words, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Work to please God alone. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "By devotion in work He knows me, knows what in truth I am and who I am. Then having known me in truth, He enters into me."
1968/09/05Robert Charles ZaehnerAt Sundry Times Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 164 I am trying to finish reading of important books I can't take with me. Absorbed by Chogyam Trungpa's Born in Tibet [Note 6 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the eleventh Trungpa tulku. The story of his youth and escape from Tibet after the Chinese Communist incursion "as told to" Esme Cramer Roberts, Born in Tibet, was published by Harcourt Brace in 1968.] I question Zaehner's At Sundry Times. I think he is off target.
1968/10/15Anne Marie EsnoulRamanuja et la mystique vishnouite Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 206 Hrishikesa, destroyer of Titans, ogres and canailles [scoundrels], [Note 1: It appears that Merton was reading Ramanuja et la mystique vishnouite by Anne-Marie Esnoul (paris: Editions du Seuil, 1964) on the airplane between San Francisco and Hawaii. In this volume he found quoted some unpublished French translations by J. Filliozat of devotional hymns written by the ninth-century Tamil poet Periyalvar. Using the parodistic technique he had developed several years earlier for his last major poetic work, The Geography of Lograire he composed this and the following poem, which are partly Merton's translation of Periyalvar's text and partly his own interjections of images drawn from his immediate experience.] Slaves flee the old group, embracing the feet of Hrishikesa, flying from Wallace, Free champagne is distributed to certain air passengers "Ad multos annos [For many years]," sings the airline destroyer of ogres and canailles In the sanctuary of the lucky wheel Blazing red circle in the fire We are signed between the eyes with this noble crim-Son element this Asia, The lucky wheel spins over the macadam forts Showering them with blood and spirits The thousand bleeding arms of Bana Whirl in the alcohol sky Magic war! Many armies of fiery stars! Smash the great rock fort in the Mathura forest Baby Krishna plays on his pan-flute And dances on the five heads Of the registered brass cobra Provided free by a loving line of governments.
1968/10/26SankaracharyaCrest-Jewel of Discrimination Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 223 Sankaracharya [Note 28: Sankaracharya. one of the most important Hindu theologians, lived in India in the eighth century A.D. He wrote commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and was the founder of the Advaita Vedanta doctrine of nondualism. His best-known work is The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, available in several translations, including the version translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1947), from which the following quotes are taken.] on the mind and the atman (from The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination): "The Atman dwells within, free from attachment and beyond all action. A man must separate this Atman from every object of experience, as a stalk of grass is separated from its enveloping sheath. Then he must dissolve into the Atman all those appearances which make up the world of name and form. He is indeed a free soul who can remain thus absorbed in the Atman alon"¦. [and some more quotes]
1968/11/05Edward C. Dimock and Denise LevertovIn Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 256 Here are some examples I like from the In Praise of Krishna anthology. The translations are by Professor Dimock in collaboration with the poet Denise Levertov. [Note 50: Edward C. Dimock, Jr., and Denise Levertov, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali (London: Cape, 1968).]:
1968/11/05Edward C. Dimock and Denise LevertovIn Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 255-56 E. C. Dimock, Jr., on Vaishnava poetry: Vaishnava (Bengali) poetry originated in the Vaishnava bhakti sects of the 16th and 17th centuries. For the most part they are love poems, of the love between the god Krishna and Radha, most beautiful of the gopis, sung in kirtan ("prais") gatherings with drum and cymbals. But some are hymns to Chaitanya, a 15th-century Bengali Vaishnava saint considered to be an incarnation of Krishna. Krishna has many aspects, but for the Vaishnavas, "Krishna was the lover and beloved, whose foremost characteristic is the giving and receiving ofjoy, who is approachable only by bhakti, by devotion and selfless dedication." The sardaya, "the man of sensibility," who is aware of certain associations in Bengali, can appreciate in Vaishnava lyrics their interplay of the erotic and the mystical. The mood of the poems is called madhurya-bhava, a mood of identification in which poet or reader enters into the love-longing of Radha or another of the gopis. One of the formalities is the bhanito, or signature line, usually at the end of the poem, in which the poet identifies himself by name.
1968/11/05SankaracharyaCrest-Jewel of Discrimination Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 257-58 Sankaracharya on brahman, the real samadhi, etc. (from The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination); "The knowledge that we are Brahman is like a fire which altogether consumes the thick forest of ignorance. When a man has realized his oneness with Brahman, how can he harbor any seed of death and rebirth?"¦ "Thus the wise man discriminates between the real and the unreal. His unsealed vision perceives the Real. He knows his own Atman to be pure indivisible consciousness. He is set free from ignorance, misery and the power of distraction. He enters directly into peac"¦. "Those who echo borrowed teachings are not free from the world. But those who have attained samadhi by emerging the external universe, the sense-organs, the mind and the ego in the pure consciousness of the Atman"”they alone are free from the world, with its bonds and snares"¦. "If a man loves Brahman with an exclusive and steadfast devotion, he becomes Brahman. By thinking of nothing but the wasp, the cockroach is changed into a wasp." (Sankaracharya, pp. 105-8)
1968/11/24Bhakta TukaramPoems of Tukaram Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 295 Outside of the window of a Jesuit scripture scholar's cell, which has been loaned to me for the night, there is a brilliant and somber fiery sunset amid low blue clouds. The scholasticate here at Kurseong is high up on the mountain and looks far out over the Ganges plain. The school has an excellent library. I wanted to dip into Fr. De Smet's thesis on the theological ideas in Sankaracharya, but did not get a chance. I read a few songs of Tukaram, the greatest Marathi poet, and some Sufis; there was no time for more. Tukaram lived in Maharashtra (the region around Bombay) from 1598 to 1650"” within two years of being an exact contemporary of Descartes. He was ordained by Chaitanya in a dream and began teaching. He was ordered by some brahmins to throw his books in the river. He did so and went into a seventeen-day fast and meditation, after which the river returned his books to him.
1968/11/28Surendranath DasguptaIntroduction to Tantric Buddhism Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 306 Surendranath Dasgupta on idealism: The Ahirbudhnya Samhita is a post-Upanishadic work from the Vaishnava school of thought which deals with time and Isvara. "Time is regarded as the element that combines the prakriti with the purushas." It is the instrument through which the spontaneous thought of Isvara acts. The power of God is not physical or mechanical; it is self-manifestation in thought movement that separates thought and object (mind substance) passing entirely into actuality without obstruction. It is creativity emerging in self-diremption from pure stillness, not as event but as pure consciousness. This self-diremption with power and object is time and all that is measured by time. The brahman perceived he would be many and thus he became many, in time. "Time is identified with the thought movement of God and is regarded as the first category of its inner movement, which is responsible not only for the creation of the cosmos but also of the colony of individual selves." It is without external cause. Individuals are pure insofar as they are "in God" but involved in moral struggle insofar as they are "outside him," cut off by extraneous limits, but they must purify themselves of separative root tendencies. Not, however, from matter. Matter and spirit are two necessary poles in the dialectic.