The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books)

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9780811205702: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books)

"This is quintessential Merton."―The Catholic Review.

"The moment of takeoff was ecstatic...joy. We left the ground―I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering..." With these words, dated October 15. 1968, the late Father Thomas Merton recorded the beginning of his fateful journey to the Orient. His travels led him from Bangkok, through India to Ceylon, and back again to Bangkok for his scheduled talk at a conference of Asian monastic orders. There he unequivocally reaffirmed his Christian vocation. His last journal entry was made on December 8, 1968, two days before his untimely, accidental death. Amply illustrated with photographs he himself took along the way and fully indexed, the book also contains a glossary of Asian religious terms, a preface by the Indian scholar Amiya Chakravarty, a foreword and postscript by Brother Patrick Hart of the Abbey of Gethsemani, as well as several appendices, among them the text of Merton's final address. Black-and-white photographs throughout

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Review:

This volume, the journal Merton kept on the journey to Asia where his life ended, also is a culmination of his long spiritual journey as a writer. "His ecumenism was total," the editors remind us, "and we find him ranging from Tantric Buddhism to Zen, and from Islam and Sufism to Vedanta." The book, however, is not dryly academic; rather, as the foreword suggests, "Merton's pilgrimage to Asia was an effort to deepen his own religious and monastic commitment." Merton himself was clear about this sense of pilgrimage; so too was he clear that this meant in no way a break with his Christian roots. "I think we have now reached a stage ... of religious maturity," he writes, "at which it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment, and yet to learn in depth from say, a Buddhist discipline and experience." This book is the fruit of such learning. Including descriptions of his meetings with the young Dalai Lama, the book is meticulously edited and supplied with useful explanatory notes and appendices, including transcriptions of talks that Merton gave during his trip. Most movingly, however, the journal itself concludes with the narrative of his transformative experiences in Ceylon where he visited three colossal figures of Buddha carved from huge stones. "Surely," he writes, "my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself." A few days later he passed away. --Doug Thorpe

About the Author:

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, following his conversion to Catholicism and was ordained Father M. Louis in 1949. During the 1960s, he was increasingly drawn into a dialogue between Eastern and Western religions and domestic issues of war and racism. In 1968, the Dalai Lama praised Merton for having a more profound knowledge of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. Thomas Merton is the author of the beloved classic The Seven Storey Mountain.

James Laughlin (1914–1997) founded New Directions in 1936 while still a student at Harvard. He wrote and compiled more than a dozen books of poetry as well as stories and essays; seven volumes of his correspondence with his authors are available from W.W. Norton.

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