Now in paperback, revised and redesigned: This is Thomas Merton's last book, in which he draws on both Eastern and Western traditions to explore the hot topic of contemplation/meditation in depth and to show how we can practice true contemplation in everyday life. Never before published except as a series of articles (one per chapter) in an academic journal, this book on contemplation was revised by Merton shortly before his untimely death. The material bridges Merton's early work on Catholic monasticism, mysticism, and contemplation with his later writing on Eastern, especially Buddhist, traditions of meditation and spirituality. This book thus provides a comprehensive understanding of contemplation that draws on the best of Western and Eastern traditions.
Merton was still tinkering with this book when he died; it was the book he struggled with most during his career as a writer. But now the Merton Legacy Trust and experts have determined that the book makes such a valuable contribution as his major comprehensive presentation of contemplation that they have allowed its publication.
Any book that arrives in print 35 years after its author's death has an unusual history. Thomas Merton, the prolific monk whose autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain brought Christian contemplation into the 20th century, forbade his literary executors to publish The Inner Experience, an unfinished 1959 rewriting of his early book What Is Contemplation? But armed with evidence that Merton had taken up the project anew shortly before his sudden death in 1968, Merton biographer William H. Shannon has reconstructed his drafts and notes into this new volume. The result is rough, since Merton's text has not been edited so much as embalmed. Scholars will appreciate the critical apparatus of italics, footnotes and changes of typeface that indicate variants in the drafts, and they may glean hints of Merton's subtle shifts in emphasis, such as his growing openness toward Eastern mysticism. Less technically minded readers, however, will be distracted, and the writing is as uneven as one might expect of a work cobbled together over 20 years. Still, many passages offer vivid examples of Merton's ability to make monastic disciplines intelligible and plausible even to secular readers. Novices should still start with New Seeds of Contemplation, but Merton's many fans will want to add this book to their shelves.