A Little on Merton and Mystics

sent by: CLARKE SCOTT |

In my silence, I am nothing, to no one, and I am free.

A few weeks back I received an email from a concerned reader. I was intrigued because I’d never gotten an email from a concerned reader.

She was concerned I was making a terrible error of judgment by titling my book, Meditate or Die.

She even let me know that she had never written to anyone like this before and felt compelled to do so here.

I have always admired earnestness. And I admired it here.

I was flattered and very much appreciated her concern and intent behind it. I read it twice before responding and four times since. But I replied in short as I want to say more, much more, in an article.

I hope it was not too disappointing to get a short reply.

The email got me thinking about the degree to which I have been misunderstood throughout my entire life—maybe Wittgenstein was right after all.

Recently I believe I have located the source of much of this misunderstanding, and a good bit of what was motivating me to use such an opening provocative title to a book about meditation.

I had hoped to publish the article this week but instead published two articles on meditation. The article, “What’s in a Name – everything you never wanted to know about naming a book and the importance of not caring about legacy.” Or something to that effect.

I am currently writing the article and it should be completed soon.

However, in the reader survey mentioned above, I added a question, you may have seen it already, and that is: do you like the title, Meditate or Die? And gave you a binary choice – Yes/No. Then, underneath this, I left a space for you to add any further remarks.

If you completed the survey before reading this and you want to add more, simply reply to this email with those comments.

Now, I cannot say I will change the name of the book but I can say this, I am open-minded enough to hear what you, dear readers, have to say about matters such as this.

So please do make yourself heard if you feel like doing so.

What I’ve Been Reading

Mystics and Zen Masters arrived this week.

It is now in my reading queue. It is a long queue. But I opened the book as I always do when books arrive. I cannot help myself. The freshness of the paper, not to mention the wisdom inside, is too great a temptation…let me consume you like a fire puja purifying my ignorance.

I’m almost done with Signs of Jonas and more than a hundred notes and those little plastic flags to go back over and add to my Obsidian vault. Did I tell you how I use this wonderful software? Probably not but I promise I will. But not today.

The reason I mention this book now is that Signs is Merton pre-1950 and Zen Masters is post-1965 when he was finally allowed to become a hermit, and the style is strikingly different. So different it is as if it were another person. Perhaps it was another person in a metaphysical sense after all.

The book is thicker than I imagined it would be. I just checked. It’s over 300 pages. Published the year of his death, 1968.

The opening is a call to contemplatives the world over to come together in meaningful ways for the benefit of each other’s traditions.

Oh Thomas, how I wish you had not left us just as you were shown the way of the diamond by the masters of snow lands.

It is quite extraordinary to think what he must have faced in his monastery. Even today, and across all traditions, not just the Catholics, there are so-called practitioners, people that I call the “dharma police” pointing fingers at anything that is not delivered through tradition.

Tradition is important. I am for not mixing traditions when we are being traditional. But there is a lot gained from a purely seeker’s perspective. For seeking, and that energy, pushes the true contemplative, past the boundaries of tradition.

This is best suited to certain types. Merton was one such person.

Here is a little sample from the opening page:

There was a time, and not far distant, when the writings even of Christian mystics were regarded with a certain trepidation in Catholic contemplative monasteries. And it is true that the mystics are not for everyone. It is also true that the vogue for certain forms of Oriental mysticism in not necessarily a sign of greater spiritual maturity in the West. But it certainly seems that if anyone should be open to these Oriental traditions and interested in them, it should be the contemplative monks of the Western monastic orders. Though there are many important differences between the various traditions, they do have very much in common, including a few basic assumptions which set the monk or Zen man apart from people dedicated to lives that are, shall we say, aggressively noncontemplative.

I read this and smiled. Smiled because Merton was not shy of a fight. He was interested in truth, and peace, and the sacred; not, my truth, my peace, and the sacred according to my tradition.

He knew there were others that would read him with what I like to call a “dharma police” mentality, looking for errors and feeling happy to find them. And he knew his audience started with the gatekeepers of his tradition, the so-called “censors” of his monastery, and I am, therefore, frankly surprised he got away with so much for so long. But I am thankful for it.

As Merton says on the following page,

There is more to human life than just “getting somewhere” in war, politics, business—or “the church.” They all agree that the highest ambition lies beyond ambition, in the renunciation of that “self” which seeks its own aggrandizement in one way or another. And they agree that a certain “purification” of the will and intelligence can open man’s spirit to a higher and more illuminated understanding of the meaning and purpose of life, or indeed of the very nature of Being itself.

This is the heart of all contemplative traditions, across all world-views. The death of the ego is the only way to the divine. Merton, like many in the West, believed that Buddhism had little to say about the divine. That is simply not true. And nowhere is this more explicit than in the Tibetan tradition. A tradition HHDL pointed Merton towards in their meeting in 1968.

So if we are to co-exist, as good people living together, we need some of us to understand what is behind the traditions of the other. Tradition after all is nothing more than the veil covering a divine reality. The color and shape and how the veil is decorated are very different. But these differences can inform our own understanding of our own traditions. It has for me.

What I’ve Created

I have removed the paywall from When the Darkness Becomes the Light article for a time so more people can read and listen to the story of the curious dream I had the night my teacher passed away.

Here is a little bit to get you started:

To this day, what happened next floored me. With the gentleness of pure love and affection, he reached out slowly with both arms and gently held my head and face in his hands. Then pulled me closer so that our foreheads touched. Then he spoke for the first time, with one simple word—Bodhichitta. And he repeated this word again and again and again and again—like a mantra.

With every repetition the significance of what he was saying began to dawn. And I now…

You can read the article here – https://clarkescott.substack.com/p/when-the-darkness-becomes-the-light

And I published two new premium subscriber articles on meditation:

  1. How to Meditate Lying Down

There is also a guided meditation including:

The lying position, or what is traditionally called the Savasana pose, is a great way to meditate because your body will naturally fall into a relaxed state by releasing the energy related to physical and muscular tension.

This, in turn, will place your mind into a state whereby relaxed meditation and stability can do the work of releasing physiological tension in your nervous system. This will naturally release psychological tension.

All three are deeply interrelated.

Read it here – https://clarkescott.substack.com/p/how-to-meditate-lying-down.

  1. Does Meditation Work for Everyone

I will go deep into the weeds to explore this claim and give my take on why meditation does in fact work, how it works, and how everyone can benefit from learning how to meditate properly.

And by properly, I mean deeply.

Read it here – https://clarkescott.substack.com/p/does-meditation-work-for-everyone

Clarke Scott

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