Contemplation and Inner Experience

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Class on contemplative prayer using Thomas Merton's The Inner Experience.

Class I

Contemplative Prayer Set 1 of 2

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#set-contemplation-and-inner-experience

#class-series; #monastic-class-series

Date for this class series: There is no date on these tapes. In Class #5, Fr. Bruno says June 21 is a Tuesday. That happened in 1983, 1988, 1994, 2005 and 2011. The Inner Tradition book was published in 2003. In class Fr. Bruno cites page numbers from the Cistercian Studies Quarterly  and does not mention the book so that leaves ’83, ’88 and ’94. Fr. Bruno mentions Scott Sinclair’s retreat on Luke taking place between class #6 and #7. Sinclair gave a retreat on Luke/Acts at NCH on July 4-7, 1994. Based on this evidence, I’m setting the date for these classes as 1994. CO 8.16.23

Transcript: 

Everybody seems kind of far away. Oh, um, preliminary notes. First of all, what would be the worst possible thing that could happen to you right now? The most agonizing thing for me is when I go to a meeting and they say, now we're going to go around the circle and introduce ourselves and tell why we're here. And tell about your peak experience. Tell about the most wonderful thing that ever happened in your life. You have a book there. What that is, is a text of Thomas Merton's called The Inner Experience.

[01:09]

A kind of secret underground text, which is not secret and underground anymore, because it was not supposed to be published as a book. And it was chopped up into extracts. I think most of it is here, but I'm not sure. I guess I did see the whole thing because James Connor from Gethsemane had it and gave a retreat on the basis of it once way back, maybe 10, 15 years ago. And it's perhaps Merton's most useful work specifically on the subject of contemplation and the life of contemplation, and that's why I chose it. He's got a bunch of other things on contemplation, because that was maybe his central obsession. And you could ask why we chose Merton and why we chose this particular one. So we'll discuss those things later. I think this morning I'll say a few preliminaries and then we can dive into the first section of this. And then all the other comments will be made after our working with a bit of a text. That's probably a better method. Because I actually made a lot of notes and have a lot of things to say about the subject,

[02:12]

but it's better to have some kind of concrete basis on which to say them, I think, so we can wrestle with Merton. And we will be wrestling with Merton, because he doesn't have the last word. But the reason why I chose him is because he's so much a realist and he's so much dealing with things that are real not only for him but for us. Because he was in the same turbulence that we are. And he was in a contemplative monastery and he was undergoing the same time of transition that we are. With all of its stresses and all of its bewildering changes, it's in perspective. He was trying to deal with that. And he dealt with it with enormous energy and intelligence and courage. So even when he's not completely right, he's worth listening to and arguing with. So be patient if we neither take him as an authority, as an absolute authority, and seem sometimes to be maybe taking a superior stance and criticizing him. We have to do that. We have to do that. Because of the situation that he's in. He's not giving us a revealed doctrine largely.

[03:14]

He's giving us his experience and his understanding of it in that moving context. And a lot has happened in the, let me see, how many years? This was written in 1959. That's the year I came here, the year Father Robert came here too. A lot has happened since then. And Merton was very prophetic in the sense that he wrote by intuition and by personal experience things that have been hammered out since. Sometimes hammered out a little better. But he was ahead of almost everybody on a lot of this. For instance, the unitive sense, the Eastern influence that's in his writing, which is now more of an acquisition of Catholicism. Okay. I'll give you a little background on that work. But first the things that we might be striving to do in this class. And I have to confess to a certain ambivalence about this class as a whole because we start out talking about the contemplative experience in its pure form. As if we knew all about it and as if we experienced it all the time.

[04:16]

That's not true. My own experience of that is very slender, very meager. And so I'm talking from a partial and participated experience of that rather than from the fullness of it. Probably true of most all of us. We have to realize that. And secondly, there's an enormous difference between literature and reality in these cases. You can write about contemplation for your whole life and never experience it. And some people have done that, I believe. And some people have thought they were talking about the real thing and they're really talking about something else. That's not true of Merton. Although Merton was a great writer, he's a poet, and you have to realize that when you're reading what he says about contemplation, about solitude, about monasticism, and a lot of other things. He can sort of send you off to deep end because he writes so beautifully. He's carried along by his aesthetic, his intuitive perception of the thing until even if he's not talking exactly from the experience of the thing, you seem to be at the threshold of it. And so it's easy to make a big mistake in that territory.

[05:19]

What we might hope from this class is, first of all, a concept of contemplation and a kind of a graduated concept of contemplation because there's the central pure reality and then there are all these concentric circles around it. And secondly, more experience, more knowledge of the experiential witness to contemplation, both from Merton himself and from the people that he quotes and from others that we'll bring in. Secondly, a context. Now this is extremely important. Context. Because the context is largely the thing that's moving around us, okay? We talk about this, and we talk about it with a particular language and with a particular imagery, which is changing in the course of time. So we're kind of on a moving river talking about this reality and so we have to understand the river and we have to understand also the difference between language, between concept, between imagination and reality. And notice our tendency to focus.

[06:24]

We focus on the contemplative experience and a person can study it for 30 years, you know, and never experience it. And we have to be very careful that we're also talking about our life. We're talking about the actuality of where we are, what we are, and what our experience is, as well as what may seem like, you know, the core and the peak of Christian experience. There's a big error in, what would you say, over-focusing on the best. And there's been a lot of that in our Christian tradition, you know, go for it, go for the absolute peak, you know. But then you end up imagining your whole life and never really respecting or accepting your own life, your own experience. It's the famous tragedy of the ideal self, which becomes, in Merton's language, the false self. Remember, it's Karen Horney, who's the expert on that, who coined the language of the unreal, false, ideal self. In that book, Neurosis and Human Growth, there's a chapter in there, The Search for Glory, which is a very important reading. If you haven't read it, I recommend it,

[07:26]

because it has a lot to do with what we're talking about. Merton was aware of her, too. So the context, the theological context and the context of life, the context in which we live and in which we talk about and try to understand this experience. Thirdly, the path. And here, I'm not going to try to be very concrete. This is not an experiential class. We don't sit down and meditate for two or three hours. So that's something outside of the class. We're just going to talk about the relationship between the experience and the various methods that are lined up in order to conduct you towards it. And fourthly, resources. Places to look for an understanding of what we're talking about. Those four aims. So our basic text will be Merton's inner experience, and we'll bring in other references from time to time, sometimes from Merton and very often from other angles, to balance out Merton. There will probably be nine or ten classes.

[08:27]

You've got an outline for the class in the beginning of that binder, which will be treated very freely. I think it's much better that we... This is what we call a kind of orbital course. It's not the kind of subject, like a mathematical subject, where you can go through in a linear fashion. We have to go through in a circular or spiral fashion. So when something important pulls us off our track during the session, that may be much more valuable. So we'll kind of orbit around the central subject of this contemplative experience, talking about it from various angles, and often going over our own tracks, and repeating, walking once again over a path that we've walked over before to understand it better, to integrate it maybe into a better, larger scheme of thought. Okay. A lot of things we could talk about here. Why the options? Why the chair? Why talk about contemplation at all? It has a big bias in it. It's an intellectual bias. It carries a particular weight of tradition. Shouldn't we be talking about prayer?

[09:28]

Or should we really talk about life? Armand, you had an article about, was it formation for prayer or formation for life at a certain point? It's a precious question to ask yourself. What is our formation about? Of course it's about both. But often we can take one thing, it's got to do with this matter of the best, take one thing and so focus ourselves on that, that our life sort of shrinks to fit it. And we may never reach it either, because we are life. We are not exactly contemplation. This is necessary to think of again and again and again, become conscious of again with Merton, because he really focuses on it. He's like a locomotive when he's after that. And then he stops and you look around and say, yes, but. So, okay. Let's just take a quick look at the first section of this work of Merton's, The Inner Experience. And then I'll come back and make some more general comments maybe.

[10:30]

Now this is divided here into eight sections which were published in Cistercian Studies in 1983 and 1984, in eight continuous issues of Cistercian Studies, which is a quarter of it. They run about 15 pages each. Now notice there's the numbering system in the periodical, but I've put numbers over each page in pen, all right. Those are the numbers we'll refer to, because those are continuous. The other numbers are interrupted, you know, because they're according to the magazine itself, the various issues. A little background on this. This book, Thomas Merton's Dark Path, is particularly useful for what we're doing. The reason is that he takes all of the writings of Merton on contemplation, all the major writings, and simply talks about one after another of them. I wish we had about five copies of this. And much of it is just a kind of distillation of what Merton is saying.

[11:32]

Sometimes there's some critical comment. The works that he treats, which form a kind of, what we say, progressive bibliography of Merton's understanding of contemplation. You could write a wonderful study on the changing vision of Merton as he moves through these various stages, these various works. And of course, a lot of people are doing just that, from different angles. Because his evolution, in this great moment of change, this great turning point in our Christian and Western civilization, is extremely interesting. He's a kind of concentrated paradigm of the whole progression. First of all, what is contemplation, which was written in 1948 as a pamphlet. It's a little thing. We had a copy as such in the library. We don't anymore, but it's in the bookstore. So I made a copy, which I've got here. And that's his first, where he's borrowing his language from the tradition at that point, from that sort of neo-scholastic tradition, when he talks about contemplation. We'll quote some of that to see what kind of language that is.

[12:35]

Secondly, seeds of contemplation. I think, where was that? About 1949, I think. We can give the dates later, because I don't have them right in hand here. Then there's the Ascent to Truth, which was in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross, and so very much in the accepted tradition of understanding of contemplation in our Catholic tradition at that time. And Merton almost disowned that book later on. He greatly disliked it, because it's too systematic and too confident, I think, in the way that it talks about contemplation, the way to it, the structure of the way to God, and so on. So he didn't like that afterwards. Then there's the Inner Experience, which was 1959. Then New Seeds of Contemplation, a major revision of Seeds of Contemplation, which appeared, I believe, in 1962, and where the influence of Zen is very pronounced.

[13:37]

It's already evident in the Inner Experience here, that's for sure. I thought the Inner Experience was later, but it was 1959. I remember he died in 1968, did he not? Then the Climate of Monastic Prayer, which was retitled as Contemplative Prayer in the present edition. And then finally Zen and the Birds of Appetite, and along with that goes Mystics and Zen Masters. It's very important for us to read Martin and then step back and see what he's doing. Try to get an understanding of this outside of Martin's understanding of it, in a certain sense. So we'll try to do that. So I will ask you to read one section of this for each of our sessions, before the class, and then we can talk about it. Then we won't have to waste time reading it together during the class. I'll presume that you've read it. So then we'll comment on that, and we'll also bring in a bunch of other things. Okay, in this first section, Martin starts out by saying

[14:41]

the worst thing you can do to a contemporary person who's a divided person, is to divide him further, by telling him about his special compartment, which is contemplation, or contemplative life, or the spiritual life, and telling him he has to cherish that at the expense of everything else. But then, of course, he proceeds to do it. I think he put that in there partly in self-defense, being his own lawyer, because he knew that, in a sense, he was going to do it. Because he brings in this notion of the true self and the false self right away. So he warns you about the cleaver, and then he lowers the cleaver. But his initial point of view here is precious, precious, precious. I think this is the core of the whole thing. What we're talking about is the unity of the person, okay? What we're talking about is some kind of experience, some kind of glimpse into what is at your core. Now, that image of the center is most important here. And remember Panikkar, when he talks about the monastic life, he talks about the center. I've said this a million times, but

[15:42]

Panikkar defines the monk and the monastery, the monastic life, in terms of the search for the center. And then he speaks about the center in his own way, which, of course, is largely based in Hindu philosophy. But Merton and I would share it. He would just integrate it into Christian vision. Now, there's a revolution happening here, okay? Prior to this time, if you read a book, for instance, even, I think, the book of Royo and Alman on spiritual life, what you find is this two-story business. The idea that you have a natural being, and then you have a supernatural being built on top of it. This was more or less the mainline Catholic tradition up until the time of Vatican II. And Merton is anticipating its demise here, more or less. The idea that you've got nature, and then you've got supernature. So most people, poor clods, go along on the level of just nature,

[16:42]

including all non-Christians. But Christians are elevated by a special grace into the supernatural realm, which is identical, practically speaking, with the church. And so they're on this other level. And I'm being maybe too sarcastic, because there's some truth in this also. There's a truth in it, but the trouble is it becomes a kind of bastion, a ghetto of defensive and parochial thought. No offense to the Irish wife, Matthew. If we get stuck in that alone. So Merton is struggling with this, and he's already wrestled his way out of it. The two-level thing, where there's the purely natural and the supernatural. And you'll notice very often when he's talking about all this, he puts in a cautionary phrase, like distinguishing the simply natural from the supernatural, and so on. The distinction is somehow necessary. We can't do away with it, but it's got to be integrated into a different kind of vision. And it's this unitive vision that Merton is breaking into here. So you move from the two-level view, where it's an absolute, what would you call it,

[17:44]

quantum leap from the natural to the supernatural, to a view in which actually the whole of nature is pervaded with divine grace, in which nature somehow is never completely separated, never completely deprived of grace. So you may catch a resonance with Matthew Fox's creation spirituality, for instance, which is that there's what he called the original blessing instead of the original sin, the original curse, the original blessing. He overdoes this thing, he overplays his hand, but nevertheless, he's part of this rediscovery of the whole thing. That we're not sitting in, simply raised to a special house above our nature. And similarly, God is not simply distinct and separate from outside and above nature, and the cosmos and ourselves. But somehow, God is in everything. Now, Catholic doctrine and belief always believed that,

[18:46]

always held that, but the supernatural thing became exaggerated during counter-reformation times and almost eclipsed the unitive view. So we need very badly to recover it now. That's what's happening in Martin. So you get this revolution where God, from up and out there, comes back inside, inside yourself. So he's at your center, he's at your core. See, this is the first thing you notice happening here in Martin. That when you're talking about your union with God, you're talking about the discovery of yourself. Because God somehow is at the core of your being. A very important revolution. So you don't so much go upstairs as you go inward. Those are just metaphors. But as metaphors, they often determine our life. See, they often direct the way that we think and act. Yes? Could you just say something about, maybe just give a language to our spirit and the Holy Spirit and how... I'm thinking immediately of the sacraments. We believe that those are the bridge between our spirit and the Holy Spirit.

[19:47]

But we also believe that there are other ways for a human spirit to be in communication with the Divine Spirit. Even in other religions. Did I say already what I wanted you to say? It's a real difficult subject. In other words, you've placed the terms of it. There's a special presence and a special union that comes through the sacraments, and also through, let us say, contemplative prayer. And especially within the grace of the Christian baptismal life. There's a special grace there. And then there's a general presence of God, which is both a general presence of God, let us say, in the cosmos, in nature, and also in people outside of baptism and outside of the sacraments. And we don't have a language to deal with that yet. All we can say is, we've got these two points of view. We've got a cosmic presence of God and a universal presence of God in humanity. Because humanity is created as a receptacle, as it were, a container. Humanity is created as a sacrament of God.

[20:49]

And so it's never without God, unless it somehow pushes God out. And then he's still there. But people, for instance, who welcome the Spirit of God into their lives without knowing anything about Christ, can be as holy or holier than Christians, I believe. But that's an area of mystery. We don't know anything about it. Or we don't have a language for it. We don't have a language for it. We only know the poles. We only know the, you can't go further than this on this side, you can't go further than this side. This is true and this is true. The special character of the Christian grace and the Christian sacraments is true. And the universal character is true. And they're two different levels somehow. And yet they're not consistently, in the individual person, one above the other or anything like that. So extremely difficult. Kind of an ordinary or general sacramentality? Yeah, cosmic sacramentality and ecclesial sacramentality, you could say. And that's the area of mystery where we're not supposed to know entirely.

[21:50]

It's like being able to judge people and rate people on their godness or something like that. We're not permitted to do that. Okay, here we are. The first thing that you have to do before you start thinking about such a thing as contemplation is to try to recover your basic natural unity. So he places that as a, as a, what would you call it, a precondition, which is an awfully steep first step. Okay? You come up to the porch and you find that the first step is a hundred feet high. Because that's also the goal of the whole process, right, is to recover your natural unity. So here, it's very difficult for Merton to be linear and to be, to be unitive at the same time. These things are all mixed together and they're all co-inherent in some way, so you can't really put one after the other. However, it's evident what he means, okay? That some movement in this direction has to initiate before you can think about contemplation. Contemplation will be a further opening

[22:51]

and a further realization of that. He's talking about the fragmentation of the, of the contemporary person, and no doubt especially the American, with its, glued to the TV set. Merton's typical American is, is glued to the TV set with a can of Budweiser in his hand. And he's hopeless. There's no hope for him. So he talks about, you know, the fact that this average American doesn't have any individual. There's no person inside. The person hasn't awakened. He's a collectivity. The Budweiser ad comes on and he goes to the refrigerator. It's automatic. And, you know, there's no freedom there. There's no possibility of personal response to God. So somehow the person has to, has to realize in some way, awaken to the inner self before he can think about contemplation. And in other words, a stirring of the inner self and somehow that appears

[23:53]

at the center of gravity, which begins to pull his life together even before he thinks about and seeks contemplation. And then contemplation is the further awakening of that inner self, or further manifestation of it, which gives him kind of a quantum push forward along the track. And then he talks about the inner self and the outer self. So here we have this central duality of Merton's, of the false self and the true self. Excuse me. Which is very powerful. I can remember when Johnny Oates Bamberger came and preached our retreat a long, long while ago. And he's a very low-key, kind of cool preacher. He's not a Billy Graham. But he was talking from this axis, this track of Merton, of false self and true self. And that stayed with me forever after as an extremely useful pattern for the spiritual life, where we're going. The false self is the external self. It's a persona, really. It's a persona. Merton will speak of it

[24:54]

sometimes as ego. But Merton somehow hadn't digested the contemporary psychological language when he wrote a lot of these things. So he invented his own language. And he got some of it from Maritain, some of it from another professor friend of his, Dan Walsh, I think, at Fordham, about the person. And from other places. But he didn't have the whole Freudian-Jungian thing under his belt when he wrote all this. Otherwise, I think, he would have used different language often. But this is largely a persona, this exterior false self that he talks about. And the inner self is equivalent to Jung's idea of the self with a capital S, but even more so, obviously, because Merton is talking about something really transcendent. And the movement for Jung is between the ego and the self, isn't it? But the ego doesn't vanish. The ego assumes a different relationship to the self. There's a great usefulness in this pattern of false self and true self, and there's also a kind of pit built into it

[25:54]

because it's a dichotomy, and it's a very harsh dichotomy. And it a bit recalls Gnosticism with its grain of gold. That's the divine being, the divine self, which is buried in the mud of humanity. So there's an implicit what happens to you as you are between this false self and the true self. After a while, it begins to puzzle you. And you realize that here's, in a sense, the worst dichotomy of all, because I've disappeared between a self which I absolutely have to repudiate, that's the false self, and a self which I cannot attain, which is the true self. So where am I? What needs to be done is it needs to be integrated somehow into the Christian scheme, I think, more thoroughly. It's not completely digested into the gospel picture. But it's a very useful tool for proceeding. Yes? I have some difficulty about making the equivalency of false self with a union persona. As I understand, for a full, healthy person,

[26:55]

we need a persona. That's right, that's right. The drunk in the doorway just doesn't, he has no persona. That's right. To be able to present also a role in society, this is, as I understand, false self, that's the illusion. I am at the center, others should be in function to me, or the collective ego also. It's not exactly equivalent, but what I'm saying is that it's on the same exterior level as the union persona. And one of the problems is that I think Merton, in postulating this false self, which is pure illusion, doesn't give room for a valid exterior self, or valid persona, nor for a valid ego at certain points. Because he speaks of the ego, as we often do, we say an egoistic person. He speaks of the ego as something evil, something negative. So there's a dualism built in here, which is like the Gnostic dualism. That's what I'm trying to get at. So I'm not making the two equal at all. But it's closer,

[27:55]

often what he's talking about is closer to a persona than it is to an ego, when he talks about the false self, because it's an image, rather than a center of consciousness, as such. It's a self-image that we continually have to struggle to maintain. And it's very real the way he talks about it. And a lot of psychologists would agree with that idea of, what would you call it, the persona, which is really an instrument or a vessel for navigating in the world and dealing with realities external to yourself, and may have very little relationship with your own center, with your own personal core. So it's kind of a vesture that you wear in order to do anything, whatever you have to do, you need a persona. Especially if you're a traffic cop or something like that. Any role you have in the world requires a persona. But if you identify yourself completely with a persona, you're in trouble. And that's what Merton is talking about. Identification with a persona in a fatal way. Yes? Is it a persona

[28:56]

that you allow someone else to fabricate for you rather than achieving one on your own? That's what he's saying, usually. In other words, the way that you get it is not conscious and free, but is interiorized from outside, as you do when you buy the right track shoes, you know? That kind of thing. And nowadays, the advertising game is really accomplished in being able to do that. They offer a complete persona. It's almost like saying you can be this or this kind of gear for $149.95, you know? Or you can be this, just by giving you the outfit. Yeah. That's what he's saying, is that it's all automatically interiorized or accepted without any consciousness or free choice at all. No reflective understanding of what's going on. Let's put a word to it. If the false self has a false persona, the true self has a true... Well, he would... Since he doesn't use

[29:56]

the language of persona, okay, I can't really say what he would say about that. I think he would say that and it depends on how much, say, Jung's language he's going to accept. He might say that the true self is completely free with regard to persona. Okay? And it's certainly not fixed on one. The false self is unfreely, is unfreely, addictively, let us say, bound to a certain persona or a certain group of personae, okay, for different situations. The true self is free among all personae. In other words, it can freely and reflectively choose which persona to adopt in a certain situation and then it does not depend upon the persona. The false self depends upon the persona for its own survival. Or thinks it does, okay? The true self does not, but adopts it as simply, what would you call it, a tactical tool in dealing with the world. Just like putting on a suit of clothes, you know. You dress one way

[30:57]

if you do one thing, you dress another way. The persona is like that. And he's free about what he puts on the true self. Okay? Yes. If I can make a leap to ultimate reality. Do we, if we were to, if we were to translate that into more classical Christian terms, are we suggesting that this ego persona is something that dissolves with death? And that this true self is what lives on? Or do you think this is a subtle body? Or this is part of the resurrected body? I mean, that's kind of a wild out there question. Yeah, the best language for me, at this point at least, would be the old man and the new man. Okay? That is, there's something in us that has to die that's mortal and that knows it. Okay? And it's terrified. And therefore, it creates the false self

[31:58]

in order to protect itself from death. Not just the ultimate death, but the death of every moment. The death of humiliation, you know, the death of somebody else dominating it. All kinds of deaths. The death of illusion, you know. We create the false self to protect us from the death of illusion, which we're eating. We're consumers of illusion. We live on illusion. That's the level of the false self. Okay? And that's the old man in some ways. So, the typical language would be the language of idolatry. All right? For the Old Testament and also for the New Testament and the Fall, that the false self is an idolatrous self. And it has to die so that the true self may be born. And the parallel between that and, let us say, Jesus being born out of the womb of the old Israel, the new Israel being born out of the womb of the old Israel, because the old Israel in a sense dies, you know. Or, let me see,

[32:58]

or even Jesus himself is death and resurrection. Or, when Paul says the whole cosmos is in labor pains until now, you know, bringing forth what? The children of God but also a new cosmos. That kind of thing. So it's a death and life, a death and birth thing, actually. So it's pretty serious in that respect. It's not just the peeling off of one layer to get to another layer. That's what you get very often, it seems to me, in Eastern thought, OK? Peel off the layer of illusion and you get to the unfading level, the eternal level inside. But that, in Christianity, that's Gnosticism. What this is, is a real death and a real rebirth, ultimately. So, for that reason, at that point, I think the false self terminology breaks down a little bit. We need a better language. And the ultimate language, I think, is going to be found in or derived from the New Testament. Because that tells us about this event. The old self, the false self is the self that hangs on to that which is already useless

[34:00]

and which has no core in it. It's the dying thing, as it were, hanging on to illusion. The true self is the new thing being born, OK? And part of the trouble with Martin's picture is that he doesn't have enough of that dynamism in it, that kind of theological movement that's happening from the old to the new. This is true also when we talk about this, and then it's true when we talk about contemplation in a historical context, OK? Because the whole thing is moving when you talk about it. There's a difference, I think, between contemplation and 200 A.D. and contemplation right now. Those are two different subjects, but they're related. Yes? For me, a brilliant insight of Martin is that this false self is not just individual. There's people who become collective and they're not totally assured. That's right. Remember, I began when I went to a church with a student. That's right. And a religious language that's fascinating is regarded as the whole under the law or under the spirit. Exactly. Yeah, when Paul says,

[35:00]

before, remember, I was first among the Pharisees. I was circumcised on the eighth day. I had this and this and this, and I considered it all rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. That's exactly the meeting point, the turnover point between the false self and the true self, OK, in a Christian sense, translated into Christian language. Right at that point of the inversion, the revolution. And the true self or the new man who depends radically on grace. That's right. He's aware, for instance, of one's own brokenness. It's not this gleaming light. That's right. Aware of our need and just lives there in the adventure of it. That's right. The other one has it all under control through the law and the rituals. And I think, exactly, so translated into the language of the synagogue of the time of Jesus, OK, the scribes and the Pharisees versus what Jesus brings. And you have the Christian equivalent, OK? Now, Martin, I think, gradually moves towards that. But when he begins

[36:01]

with the ideas of false self and true self, I think he's too abstract. And he's idealizing the true self and he's damning the false self, OK, without sufficiently digesting them into that New Testament picture. Later on, he does more and more. In New Seeds, he begins to say, well, maybe we shouldn't totally reject the exterior self, and so on. But the whole thing is pretty subtle, OK? Because, for instance, our exterior life is a mixture of the old and the new. We can't simply say that exterior is old, exterior is bad, and so on. The new is manifesting itself through our exterior life. So it's quite subtle. Yes? You say her material is behind her, or ahead, or equal to what Merton is talking about? Oh, gee, that's difficult. Experientially, in a way, she's gone far beyond Merton. I think her mystical experience

[37:01]

leads Merton in sort of in second grade. But her theological vision is something else, OK? And I don't want to blurt out something about that, which would be So we'd have to look at that in detail, OK? I think certainly Merton has some insights that Saint Teresa doesn't have, and which are very helpful to us who live in Merton's time. I'll say that. And then he talks about the awakening of the inner self. And the poet Merton comes out very often here. The inner self is as secret as God, and like Him it evades every concept that tries to seize hold of it, and so on. He speaks, there's this wonderful image of the inner self, the true self, as a shy, wild animal

[38:02]

that never appears at all whenever an alien presence is at hand, OK? That's on the top of page three there. Page three in pink. The inner self is precisely that self which cannot be tricked or manipulated by anyone, even by the devil. He is like a very shy, wild animal that never appears at all whenever an alien presence is at hand. You may hear a resonance in that, remember the stag, is it in the Song of Songs or in John on the Cross is canonical, you know, the idea of the Beloved of Christ, the Bridegroom, being a stag, who is shy and comes, yet kind of looks through the lattice and so on. There's a truth there, but look, there's something else there too, because is not this true self the strong one? Is not this true self actually the immortal one? And isn't it the lion as well as the lamb? Isn't it the kind of son of power and energy,

[39:02]

the very divine being inside one, the risen Christ, okay, so it's not just a shy deer in the forest. So with these images you have to look out because they can lead you too far over to one side, but they are beautiful, that one's wonderful. So at the same time it's this elusive thing that we can't possibly focus on or catch, and it's the strongest thing in us, it's the absolute rock, the immortal one. As you read the Fathers you get these different images, you go back and forth between them. Then he talks, he says, a certain cultural and spiritual atmosphere, this is over on page four, that's the ink for it on top, favors the secret and spontaneous development of the inner self, and it's so beautiful as he writes about that, you know, as a poet, that inner self. And there he's writing from experience because he's feeling this sort of inside the thicket,

[40:02]

the forest of his own, his own psyche, his own being. And he tries to look at it, tries to find it, and it flees him and just leaves him with this sort of taste, this fragrance that gets into his words. He's talking here about the difference between the modern contemporary culture and an ancient religious and sapiential culture. Now this is a big issue, especially for monks, and what he's beginning to say here is that we need a recovery of a wisdom culture. And if anybody's going to do it, the monastic tradition somehow has to try to do it because this tradition belongs to them. They are, as it were, the custodians, I hope not just custodians, of this sapiential tradition. And what is it that characterizes that sapiential tradition? Say, as you compare it with contemporary life, well, you have to kind of focus to do that, but it's a unitive tradition. It's a participative tradition

[41:03]

in which somehow you know things through relationship and through union with them and through participation in them. That's the kind of knowledge that's involved in that old sapiential culture. And contemporary culture tends to be dominated by the scientific or scientistic paradigm, which is a dualistic knowledge in which you know things by difference and you know them as objects. This begins to break down in advanced physics, but it's still dominant. And that paradigm has been so successful technologically and so on that it's dominated the modern world. And consequently, we tend to be tyrannized by it without even knowing it. We presume there isn't any other way to know. But is there a kind of knowledge which is actually unitive, a kind of knowledge by which you actually become what you know? And the poets would say yes, but then if you really want to go with that, you have to carry it to a metaphysical and then a theological level to realize what that's about.

[42:04]

And that's what Martin is beginning to do here. Yes? That whole insight of Darwin about either we're going to be trinitarian or we're going to have an external way of knowing and of seeing as opposed to this inner penetration, inner dynamics. Exactly. So ultimately, the sapiential would need to be trinitarian and the participation That's right. But one of the troubles there is that even our understanding of the Trinity is dualistic. In other words, we tend to look at it as what? As a structure, as a pattern somehow, an objective constellation of concepts or of figures or something like that. Whereas I think the secret of somehow the mystery of the Trinity is the participative secret in which we know its movement. So I think Rahner would agree with that. The way we, as the Fathers would too, the way we understand the Trinity is not objectively but participatively. Exactly. So he's really talking about two ways of knowing there

[43:06]

and saying that one is already madness in a sense, you know, that purely dualized external way of knowing. In the end, he would say maybe a murderer and a liar as Jesus says of Satan and John. Although we've got to be careful here because science is a positive, you know, and that objective knowledge has accomplished great things, great good for humanity. And I think it's part of the revelation of Christ too. It's part of the, how do you say, part of the expression of the Logos. It's the Western expression but the two have to be integrated now, West with East. So Martin will talk a lot about that, about the merging of the Eastern unitive consciousness with the Western differentiated and dualistic analytical consciousness. He's got a neat piece in that book of Gandhi's writings called Gandhi on, is it Gandhi on Nonviolence? The preface or introduction to that where he talks about the one-eyed giant.

[44:06]

It's neat. He gets that from van der Post I think, the idea of Western culture being a one-eyed giant that comes into the East, you know, and lays waste with its club. Whereas in the East sort of view, he speaks about seeing with the other eye. The one eye is the eye of dualized consciousness where everything's an object to you, everything's outside you. The other eye, or having two eyes, would be the participative knowledge by which you know things as, when Francis says, you know, sister, water, brother, son, that kind of thing. Participative. And that's wisdom versus science. Sorry, you make sure there are two eyes, that's used by Merton. Yes. So what is the analogy called the Western eye and what is the Eastern? What is the Eastern, yeah. It's in the introduction or preface to that book on Gandhi. That's kind of marriage of East and West.

[45:06]

That's right. That's proposed by him. That's right. Now Merton very much envisioned that. Okay, now he gives us an example from Zen. This wonderful little poem, which is Chinese, by the way, of the official. What's his name? Cho Pen. I can pretend to sing his name. Devoid of thought, I sat quietly by the desk in my official room with my fountain mind, wonderful expression, undisturbed, as serene as water. A sudden crash of thunder, the mine doors burst open, and lo, there sits the old man in all his homeliness. That in a sense is a corrective also to Merton's notion of the false self as an idealized self, okay, because there's the old guy in all his homeliness, instead of this luminous being, you know, at the center, the same old man

[46:07]

in all his homeliness. I'm not going to comment too much on it because Merton does, but notice what is signified by this option, the choice of starting with this text, okay. First of all, and this is already obvious, Merton is saying that the contemplative experience itself is universal, it's not limited to Christianity, okay. And he's saying that because it's built in somehow to the structure of the human person, okay. Now he's already indicated in another way that his contemplative experience has to do with the realization of the core, the essence of the human person, and that is a universal thing. But this is a very important choice. See, before Merton's time, almost everybody, when they wrote a book about this, would limit their view to Christian contemplation, as if, just like they say the same thing about monasticism, if you write a book about monasticism, it would be as if the Christians invented monasticism, as if the Christians were the first to experience contemplation. That's kind of a shock

[47:08]

to realize that's not true. And then we have to make a readjustment in the way that we relate Christianity to humanity, the human person, and so on, in our minds. It requires some work to do that. Yes? In the traditional Catholic approach, wouldn't we think of something like the Satori experience that he talks about as natural mysticism? But would we use the language and say that Satori is a spiritual experience, a spiritual awakening? Is that new language for Merton to say that? That's new language. Okay, I think the traditional authors up to Merton's time would have been too cautious to call that spiritual experience. Would he not even use the term natural? Would he not even make the distinction between our type of mysticism and theirs? Ours is supernatural and theirs is natural? No, he'll give a lot of energy to that. As you go on with this, you'll see that, okay? So he does that very systematically. But the natural mysticism still can lead to a spiritual experience.

[48:08]

Yeah, but he's got another category that overlays this. Which is between natural contemplation and pure contemplation, even within the Christian scheme, okay? And I think he would intend to define only as much as he has to and to leave that country pretty unconceptual because it's a difficult country, okay? And if we make too many structures and too many partitions before the evidence is even in, but it's that kind of thing, you know. The Holy Spirit doesn't like to be compartmented. But he's going to talk about that at length, so we'll deal with it when he does. Yes? You talk about going beyond just the Christian as kind of having them anomaly and grace. Yes. But already Christian is quite a courageous leap forward in the 59s. We were just talking about the Catholic. That's right, that's right. was the one true church.

[49:10]

That's right. And so whenever he's using Christian, we just assume that that was already an astonishing, because the second floor was thought to be kind of the reserve of Catholics. That's right. That's perfectly true, yeah. So we can be grateful for that liberation of perspective that we've experienced. We may have lost some things, but we certainly gained something. Okay, so there's the example from Zen, and then he will quote a number of Christian texts from St. Augustine, from Tauler. And what I'd recommend is that you read through those and then bring up the questions that they suggest next time. Okay? And then I'd like to and similarly with the next chapter, that's a rather large order, but we don't have to follow one section with each class,

[50:13]

with each of our sessions. We get a little bit behind, that's okay. Sometimes we may jump ahead, because not every section of Vernon's work is going to raise as many issues in your mind, I don't think. And these first ones are important because we're confronting all the basic options and presuppositions. I'll read a couple of definitions of contemplation to you. They come from different times, but all during the past. All from the central. Here's Alman's definition from that Encyclopedic Dictionary

[51:14]

of Religion. I don't remember when it was published. I didn't see it. It's within the last 30 years. A cognitive act, that is an act of the mind, by which God and divine things are the object of quasi-intuitive intellectual vision. The act is accompanied by delight, both in the object and the act itself. That's still a pretty scholastic treatment. Is Alman a Dominican or Carmelite? Anybody know? He's the author of a standard work on spiritual life. It sounds real scholastic. Yeah, it is. Notice how the idea of object, God as an object. I think he's Dominican. Dominican, yeah. I think so. Royo and Alman are the authors of that standard work that we have. A cognitive act. The emphasis right away on the faculty. This is something you're doing with your mind, basically. It's happening in your mind. By which God and divine things

[52:14]

are the object of quasi-intuitive intellectual vision. Accompanied by delight, both in the object and the act itself. There's a kind of perfect, what would you call it, structuring of this according to the scholastic way of looking at the human person. And its relation with God. But what we're going to question is the dualism of it, largely. And the analytical tendency. You'll find that as Merton progresses, he becomes less analytical and more descriptive. And even more wildly descriptive, I think. But especially more unitive. You'll tend to use paradox in order to communicate the unitive quality of this experience. And then Almond quite nicely divides contemplation into various levels. He talks about aesthetic contemplation. It's very important to realize that there are these different levels or directions of contemplation. That it's not all the strictly contemplative experience.

[53:16]

He talks about the aesthetic, the philosophical or scientific, the theological, which is intuitive gaze on God as known through reason enlightened by faith. So, for instance, St. Thomas Aquinas, as he writes the Summa, would be experiencing, probably very largely, theological contemplation. Very valid. Then acquired supernatural, and then mystical infused, right at the peak. That distinction between acquired, what we do by our own efforts, or acquired, get by our own efforts, achieve, and that which is simply given, almost in spite of us. Merton will deal with that later, so we'll get to that. I'll use one of these again. And this is kind of turned over, so let's change the terms of this. If we put our pure, unitive experience down here, pure contemplation, and I can put anything in the center,

[54:17]

and put our, let's say, intellectual over here, and put our aesthetic over here, feeling. And then up here, if we could just put action. Merton later is going to speak of masked contemplation, and masked contemplative. Now I think there is a contemplation which is diffused into the whole of life, so that the person is not reflexively conscious of it, can't talk about it, maybe has never even realized what it is. This is true of people who live a very simple life, I think, and also of millions of people, I believe. Take a country like Italy, which is so intensely religious, so intensely Catholic, on the level of the peasant people,

[55:19]

very often. There's a novel about that, it always has been. So here's the pure contemplative thing, and then it's various mediated realizations through the various faculties, through the mind, through the feelings, and through the whole of life. It's very simple. Now when we say contemplation, there's a bias in it, it's an intellectual bias, because contemplation, as Allman has just defined it, is an act of the intellect, or an experience of the intellect. So we've already somehow made an option there, and we have to look at the option that we've made. What are the other alternatives? What could we talk about? Well, we could talk about divine union, couldn't we? We could talk about union with God. Or we could talk about love. We could talk about the affective realization of God.

[56:19]

When we talk about union, of course, that's somewhat abstract, and it doesn't choose one of these parts of our personality. If we talk about love, that's the alternative to the intellectual, the obvious alternative to the intellectual life. And a lot of writers and a lot of people are inclined to that. Another thing here, there's a lot of difference between personality types. Some people, for instance, have no attraction to the Zen type of experience at all. It's meaningless to them. They experience God in another way, affectively. And it's very real for them, and just as valuable, probably, just as valid. And for other people, the affective language is meaningless, and the only way that they can think of God is in that somewhat dry-seeming interiority of the Zen experience. There's something like it in Christianity, a centering prayer, something like that. You can talk about quiet also. That's a classical way of talking about this kind of thing. Hezekiah, you know,

[57:20]

the descent into a more and more unified level, as it were, of the person, and therefore, into greater and greater interior peace. Interior, what would you call it? There are a lot of names for that. But Hezekiah is the classical name, quiet. It's almost another word for integration. And then there are all these concentric circles also, as we talk about either contemplation or contemplative life. We won't deal with that now, but later when it comes up. In fact, I think we've got to the end of our time today, so let's call it a day. The one thing I'd like to repeat on summing up is that what we're trying to do is find contemplation not as one particular experience in your life, but somehow related to the center of your life,

[58:21]

and thereby to all of your life, to the center of your person, and thereby to every moment of your life, okay? Not as a once-in-a-while or particularly to-be-treasured peak experience, but as something which is connected to the operative center of your life, and therefore is something that you stay in contact with all the time, okay? One way of looking at that is expressed by Rahner when he speaks an equivalent language of something like this being... Not Rahner so much, but somebody like Ken Wilber, I guess, as this being an experience of the ground of consciousness. And then you can translate it into Rahner's theology, Rahner's epistemology. But an experience of contemplation as being an experience of the ground of consciousness... Notice how this is like the language of center, like the language of inner self or something like that. An experience of the ground of consciousness,

[59:21]

and therefore an experience of the consciousness which you have somehow all the time when you're not concerned with the particular, okay? A pure experience of that which is like the sky, it's like the heaven, like the horizon, like the overall screen, as it were, of your consciousness, and therefore the overall context of your life at every moment, okay? So I'll try to kind of move along that line as you proceed. Any more questions before we quit? So I'm sorry to give you so much at the outset, but please read both this first section and then the second one before next time and we'll be talking mostly about the second one or anything else you bring up at that time. Thank you. Glory be to the Father

[60:23]

and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be world without end. Amen.

[60:32]