Sunday, May 29, 2011

merton: on war and fear



The present war crisis is something we have made entirely for and by ourselves. There is in reality not the slightest logical reason for war, and yet the whole world is plunging headlong into frightful destruction, and doing so with the purpose of avoiding war and preserving peace! This is a true war-madness, an illness of the mind and the spirit that is spreading With a furious and subtle contagion all over the world. Of all the countries that are sick, America is perhaps the most grievously afflicted. This is a nation that claims to be fighting for religious truth along with freedom and other values of the spirit. 

What are we to do?  That task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probably at every moment everywhere. We may never succeed in this campaign but whether we succeed or not the duty is evident. It is the great task of our time. Everything else is secondary, for the survival of the human race itself depends on it. We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. And the first job of an is to understand the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society.

At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another. They do not even trust themselves.... They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to know  God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above an our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this that makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves....

As if this were not enough, we make the situation much worse by artificially intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things that are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways, we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcise it, or to get rid of it in any way we can.

We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomenter of an conflict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war....

In our refusal to accept the partially good intentions of others and work with them (of course prudently and with resignation to the inevitable imperfection of the result) we are unconsciously proclaiming our own malice, our own intolerance, our own lack of realism, our own ethical and political quackery.

Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political deals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling, out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideas of our enemies--which may of course be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inextricable tangle of good and evil motives in which, perhaps, the evil predominate but where one must continue to hope doggedly in what little good can still be found....

I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together....

We must try to accept ourselves whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it. We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. But at the same time we have to recognize that we have willfully or otherwise trespassed on the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by somebody else.

These principles that govern personal moral conduct, that make harmony possible in small social units like the family, also apply in the wider areas of the state and in the whole community of nations. It is however quite absurd, in our present situation or in any other, to expect these principles to be universally accepted as the result of moral exhortations. There is very little hope that the world will be run according to them all of a sudden, as a result of some hypothetical change of heart on the part of politicians. It is useless and even laughable to base political thought on the faint hope of a purely contingent and subjective moral illumination in the hearts of the world's leaders. But outside of political thought and action, in the religious sphere, it is not only permissible to hope for such a mysterious consummation, but it is necessary to pray for it. We can and must believe not so much that the mysterious light of God can "convert" the ones who are mostly responsible for the world's peace, but at least that they may, in spite of their obstinacy and their prejudices, be guarded against fatal error....

For only love--which means humility--can exorcise the fear that is at the root of all war .

What is the use of postmarking our mail with the exhortation to 'pray for peace' and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls 'mocking God' - and mocking Him far more effectively than what the atheists do. The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists, who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missiles since nothing else offers any real security. Is it then, because we have so much trust in the power of God that we are intent upon utterly destroying these people before they can destroy us? Even at the risk of destroying ourselves at the same time?

If men really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and He would give it to them. But why should He give the world a peace it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all.

To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob brothers without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody, peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.

Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was "peace" and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war....

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed--but hate these things in yourself not in another.


~ Thomas Merton
excerpt from his 1962 essay: The Root of War is Fear

Friday, May 27, 2011

where does the dance begin, where does it end?


Don't call the world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe, until at last, now, the shine
in your own yard?

Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education.

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,

as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?


~ Mary Oliver
from Why I wake Early

each separate fragment


Love all that has been created by God,
 both the whole and every grain of sand. 
Love every leaf and every ray of light. 
Love the beasts and the birds, love the plants, 
love every separate fragment. 

If you love each separate fragment, 
you will understand the mystery of the whole resting in God. 

~ Dostoyevsky

Thursday, May 26, 2011

painful is the burden of self

Cease not to desire the loss of that pitiful knowledge 
and corrupted awareness of your blind being.  
Forget and disregard your self ruthlessly...  
you must desire to lose the knowledge and experience of self.  

This is essential if you are to experience God's love as fully as possible in this life.  
You must realize and experience for yourself that 
unless you lose self you will never reach your goal.  

For wherever you are, 
in whatever you do, 
or howsoever you try, 
that elemental sense of your own blind being will remain between you and your God.  

It is then that you will realize how heavy and painful is the burden of self.

All the misery in the world taken together will seem as nothing beside this, 
because then you will be a cross to yourself.  
Yet this is the way to our Lord and the real meaning of his words: 
"Let a man first take up his cross" 
(the painful cross of self)... this grace touches and calls you,
 may you see and appreciate more and more the surpassing worth of the contemplative work.

~ The Book of Privy Counseling

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

to eradicate violence in ourselves

. it possible to eradicate violence in ourselves?

I am asking whether it is possible for a human being living psychologically in any society to clear violence from himself inwardly?  If it is, the very process will produce a different way of living in this world.

Some of us, in order to rid ourselves of violence, have used a concept, and ideal, called non-violence, and we think by having an ideal of the opposite to violence, non-violence, we can get rid of the fact, the actual - but we cannot.  We have had ideals without number, all the sacred books are full of them, yet we are still violent - so why not deal with violence itself and forget the word altogether?

If you want to understand the actual you must give your whole attention, all your energy, to it.  That attention and energy are distracted when you create a fictitious, ideal world.  So can you completely banish the ideal?  The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, what love is, has no concept at all.  He lives only in what is

To investigate the fact of your own anger you must pass no judgement on it, for the moment you conceive of its opposite you condemn it and therefore you cannot see it as it is.  When you say you dislike or hate someone, that is a fact, although it sounds terrible.  If you look at it, go into it completely, it ceases, but if you say, "I must not hate; I must have love in my heart," then you are living in a hypocritical world with double standards.  

To live completely, fully, in the moment is to live with what is, the actual, without any sense of condemnation or justification - then you understand it so totally that you are finished with it.  

When you see clearly the problem is solved.

~ J. Krishnamurti
from Freedom from the Known

leap in the dark

There is always some accident in the best things,
whether thoughts or expressions or deeds.  The memorable thought, the happy expression, the admirable deed are only partly ours.  The thought came to us because we were in a fit mood; also we were unconscious and did not know that we had said or done a good thing.  We must walk consciously only partway toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, March 11, 1858
photo by Robert Goulet

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

dog and bear

The air this morning,
blowing between fog and drizzle,

is like a white dog in the snow
who scents a white bear in the snow
who is not there.

Deeper than seeing,
deeper than hearing,
they stand and glare, one at the other.

So many listen lost, in every weather.

The mind has mountains,
Hopkins wrote, against his sadness.

The dog held the bear at bay, that day.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from After
photo by  Kathleen Connally

to be admired


They are to be admired those survivors
of solitude who have gone with no maps
into the room without feature,
where no wilderness awaits a footstep trace,
no path of dance to a cold summit
to look back on and feel exuberant,
no clarity of territories yet untouched
that tremble near the human breath,
no thickets of undergrowth with deep pores
to nest the litanies of wind addicted birds,
no friendship of other explorers
drawn into the dawn of the unknown.

No. They do not belong to the outside worship
of the earth, but risk themselves in the interior
space where the senses have nothing to celebrate,
where the air intensifies the intrusion of the human
and a poultice of silence pulls every sound
out of a circulation down into the ground,
where in the panic of being each breath unravels
an ever deeper strand in the web of weaving mind,
shawls of though fall off, empty and lost,
where the only red scream of blood continues unheard
within anonymous skin, and the end of all exploring
is the relentless arrival at an ever novel nowhere. 

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory

today's stupidity



Natural, reckless, correct skill;
Yesterday's clarity is today's stupidity
The universe has dark and light, entrust oneself to change
One time, shade the eyes and gaze afar at the road of heaven.


from Ikkyū and The Crazy Cloud Anthology : A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan 
by Sonja Arntzen
with thanks to crow with no mouth



Each one is a small life, but sometimes long, if its
place in the universe is not found out. Like us, they
have a heart and a stomach; they know hunger, and
probably a little satisfaction too. Do not mock them
for their gentleness, they have a muscle that loves
being alive. They pull away from the light. They pull
down. They hold themselves together. They refuse to

But sometimes they lose their place and are tumbled
shoreward in a storm. Then they pant, they fill
with sand, they have no choice but must open the
smallest crack. Then the fire of the world touches
them. Perhaps, on such days, they too begin the
terrible effort of thinking, of wondering who, and 
what, and why. If they can bury themselves again in 
the sand they will. If not, they are sure to perish,
though not quickly. They also have resources beyond 
the flesh; they also try very hard not to die.

~ Mary Oliver
from What Do We Know

with thanks to whiskeyriver

happy 70th bob, and thanks


born: May 24 1941
Duluth, Minnesota 
named Robert Allen Zimmerman
(Hebrew name Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham)

The truth was obscure, 
Too profound and too pure, 
To live it you had to explode

~ Bob Dylan

Monday, May 23, 2011

only one search

Lovers think they are looking for each other,
but there is only one search.

Wandering this world is wandering that,
both inside one transparent sky.
In here there is no dogma and no heresy.

The miracle of Jesus is himself,
not what he said or did about the future.
Forget the future. I would worship someone
who could do that.

On the way you may want to look back, or not,
but if you can say, "There is nothing ahead,"
there will be nothing there.

Stretch your arms and take hold
the cloth of your clothes with both hands.
The cure for pain is in the pain.

Good and bad are mixed. If you don't have both,
you do not belong with us.

When someone gets lost, is not here,
he must be inside us. There is no place like that
anywhere in the world.

~ Rumi
 translated by Coleman Barks
art: self portrait by picasso



The nails, once inset, rise to the surface—
or, more truly perhaps, over years
the boards sink down to meet what holds them.
Worn, yes, but not worn through:
the visible work reveals itself in iron,
to be pounded down again, for what we've declared
the beautiful to be.

~ Jane Hirshfield

brother paul



with thanks to pbs

Saturday, May 21, 2011

what waits within me


I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Book of Monastic Life

Friday, May 20, 2011

I'm here


I'm here. I'm always here. Even when I'm 'there', I'm here. 
I can't get away from here. Even when I try to escape here, I find 
myself here. Once I even managed to arrive 'there', but then I took a 
fresh look, and I was still here. Here follows me wherever I go. It's just 
always here, wherever I am. Hmm. Perhaps I am here. I mean, perhaps I 
*am* here! Perhaps here is what I actually am. That's why I'm always 

~ Jeff Foster


ultimate word of truth


A monk asked Joshu, "What is the one ultimate word of truth?"

"Yes," was Joshu's reply.

The monk failed to see any sense in the master's reply, and so he asked the question again.

This time, Joshu roared in response, "I am not deaf!"

~  D. T. Suzuki
thanks to whiskey river


Thursday, May 19, 2011

one truth

In all ten directions of the universe,
there is only one truth.
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost?  What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it-is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket:
can you see how priceless it is?


~ Ryokan

Ryokan's love of children and animals is legendary. 
He often played games with the local children, attested to in his own poetry. 

His reputation for gentleness was sometimes carried to comical extremes. 
One tale is told that, one day when Ryokan returned to his hut 
he discovered a robber who had broken in 
and was in the process of stealing the impoverished monk's few possessions. 
In the thief's haste to leave, he left behind a cushion. 
Ryokan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. 
This event prompted Ryokan to compose one of his best known poems:

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

When Ryokan was 70 and nearing the end of his life, 
he met a young nun and poet named Teishin. 
Though Teishin was only 28, they fell in love. 
They exchanged several beautiful love poems.

As Ryokan was dying, Teishin came to him and held him at his moment of death. 
It was Teishin who collected and published Ryokan's poetry after his death.

with thanks to poetry-chaikhana

the baseless fabric of this vision

Be cheerful, sir:
Our revels now are ended.  These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

~ William Shakespeare


Gustav Mahler 
Born: 7 July 1860 in Kalischt, Bohemia,
Died: 18 May 1911 in Vienna,
was an Austrian composer and conductor of the late Romanticism to Modernism. 
He was not only one of the most important composers of the late Romantic period, 
but also one of the most famous conductors of his time as an opera director 
an important reformer of musical theater.



with thanks to semsakrebsler

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the dove in the belly - stop and listen



The whole of appearance is a toy. For this,
The dove in the belly builds his nest and coos,

Selah, tempestuous bird. How is it that
The rivers shine and hold their mirrors up,

Like excellence collecting excellence?
How is it that the wooden trees stand up

And live and heap their panniers of green
And hold them round the sultry day? Why should

These mountains being high be, also, bright,
Fetched up with snow that never falls to earth?

And this great esplanade of corn, miles wide,
Is something wished for made effectual

And something more. And the people in costumes,
Though poor, though raggeder than ruin, have that

Within them right for terraces—oh, brave salut!
Deep dove, placate you in your hiddenness.

~ Wallace Stevens
art by matisse, 1949

day and night

The sun rises and sets,
 it is day and night,
 it will go on thus for a long time.  

You get to think you are part of it and 
your circumstances are related to the cosmos, 
but one day your little system will break down 
and the day and night will rotate indifferently.  
Can this be?  

It seems more like the sunrise and sunset, 
the moon and stars, 
this new season, 
they are part of me. 

 I am sure they will never be the same without me,
for no one could see them just as I do.

~ Harlan Hubbard
journal entry March 9, 1963
woodcut by the author

beautiful hands


This is the kind of Friend
You are -

Without making me realize
My soul's anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past 

In Your beautiful 

~ Hafiz
from The Subject Tonight is Love
translation by Daniel Ladinsky