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Words of Wisdom

Thoughts on Taoism by the Reverend Thomas Merton (vegetarian), Part 1 of 2

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The Reverend Thomas Merton, an important Catholic mystic and spiritual thinker, was born in 1915 to a New Zealand father and an American mother. The many life situations he encountered in his youth led him to explore religion and spirituality and eventually devote his life to God by becoming a monk, and later a deacon, at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a part of the Order of Trappists, in Kentucky, USA. During his monastic life, Thomas Merton developed his writing talent by translating religious texts and writing biographies. He also started penning poetry, as well as books and articles on topics ranging from spirituality to social justice and peace. Believing in the equality of all religions, Thomas Merton became deeply interested in Eastern traditions such as Taoism Zen Buddhism in the last years of his life. Today we’ll read a selection from Thomas Merton’s book “Thoughts on the East” presenting his views on the essence of Taoism. “The way of Tao is to begin with the simple good with which one is endowed by the very fact of existence. Instead of self-conscious cultivation of this good (which vanishes when we look at it and becomes intangible when we try to grasp it), we grow quietly in the humility of a simple, ordinary life, and this way is analogous (at least psychologically) to the Christian ‘life of faith.’” If one is in harmony with Tao — the cosmic Tao, ‘Great Tao’ — the answer will make itself clear when the time comes to act, for then one will act not according to the human and self-conscious mode of deliberation, but according to the divine and spontaneous mode of wu wei, which is the mode of action of Tao itself, and is therefore the source of all good…” “The true character of wu wei is not mere inactivity but perfect action — because it is act without activity. In other words, it is action not carried out independently of Heaven and earth and in conflict with the dynamism of the whole, but in perfect harmony with the whole. It is not mere passivity, but it is action that seems both effortless and spontaneous because performed ‘rightly,’ in perfect accordance with our nature and with our place in the scheme of things.”
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