Thomas Merton was recognized as one of those rare Western minds that are entirely at home with the Zen experience. In this collection, he discusses diverse religious concepts-early monasticism, Russian Orthodox spirituality, the Shakers, and Zen Buddhism-with characteristic Western directness. Merton not only studied these religions from the outside but grasped them by empathy and living participation from within. "All these studies," wrote Merton, "are united by one central concern: to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the 'way' which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness."
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is one of the foremost spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century. Though he lived a mostly solitary existence as a Trappist monk, he had a dynamic impact on world affairs through his writing. An outspoken proponent of the antiwar and civil rights movements, he was both hailed as a prophet and castigated for his social criticism. He was also unique among religious leaders in his embrace of Eastern mysticism, positing it as complementary to the Western sacred tradition. Merton is the author of over forty books of poetry, essays, and religious writing, including "The New Man" and "The Seven Story Mountain," for which he is best known. His work continues to be widely read to this day.
Thomas Merton's devotion to the Roman Catholic Church never impeded his ability to appreciate the world's varieties of religious thought--if anything, the contemplative nature of his monasticism encouraged it. In "Mystics and Zen Masters," Merton discusses diverse religions and theologies--from Russian Orthodox spirituality and Shakers to the "Tao Te Ching" and Zen Buddhism--and in the process examines the deep-rooted similarities between Eastern and Western mysticism. "All these studies," Merton wrote, "are united by one central concern: to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the 'way' which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness." However, Merton performs more than a mere external analysis, and in the end achieves a full grasp of these religions from within through an active engagement with their values and philosophies.