So far, there are only a few quotes here.
Merton starts, in the firtst chapter, by defining what contemplation is:
the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that
life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is
spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.
It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid
realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible,
transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplatin is, above all,
awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source,
obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of
spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature,
because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is
not vision because is sees "without seeing" and knows "without knowing." It
is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in
images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by
symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the
contemplative mind takes back what is has said, and denies what is has
affirmed. For in contemplation we know by "unknowing." Or, better, we know
beyond all knowing or "unknowing."
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, pp. 1-2).
The only way to get rid of misconceptions about contemplation is to
experience it. One who does not actually know, in his own life, the
nature of this breakthrough and this awakening to a new level of reality
cannot help being misled by most of the things that are said about it. For
contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It
can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more
objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties
it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of
verbalization and of rationalization. Nothing is more repellent than a
pseudo-scientific definition of the contemplative experience. One reason for
this is that he who attempts such a definition is tempted to proceed
psychologically, and there is really no adequate psychology of
contemplation. To describe "reactions" and "feelings" is to situate
contemplation where it is not to be found, in the superficial consciousness
where it can be observed by reflection. But this reflection and this
consciousness are precisely part of that external self which "dies" and is
cast aside like a soiled garment in the genuine awakening of the
Contemplatin is not and cannot be a function of this external self. There is
an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens
only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly
identify with the first person singular. We must remember that this
superficial "I" is not our real self. It is our "individuality" and our
"empirical self" but it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person in
whom we subsist before the eyes of God. The "I" that works in the world,
thinks about itself, observes its own reactions and talks about itself is
not the true "I" that has been united to God in Christ. It is at best the
vesture, the mask, the disguise of that mysterious and unknown "self" whom
most of us never discover until we are dead. Our external, superficial self
is not eternal, not spiritual. Far from it. This self is doomed to
disappear as completely as smoke from a chimney. It is utterly frail and
evanescent. Contemplation is precisely the awareness that this "I" is really
"not I" and the awakening of the unknown "I" that is beyond observation and
reflection and is incapable of commenting upon itself. It cannot even say
"I" with the assurance and the impertinence of the other one, for its very
nature is to be hidden, unnamed, unidentified in the society where men talk
about themselve and about one another. In such a world the true "I" remains
both inarticulate and invisible, because it has altogether too much to say
—not one word of which is about itself.
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, pp. 7-9).
Physical solitude, exterior silence and real recollection are all morally
necessary for anyone who wants to lead a contemplative life, but like
everything else in creation they are nothing more than means to an end, and
if we do not understand the end we will make a wrong use of the means.
We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them;
we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to
find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary
The one end that includes all others is the love of God.
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, p. 82).
At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one
another as the fear they have of everthing. It is not merely that
they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they
are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still
less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust
anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, p. 114).
A man who has been killed by one enemy is just as dead as one who has been
killed by a whole army. If you are friends with one habit of mortal sin you live in death, even
though you may seem to have all the other virtues.
Some people think it is enough to have one virtue, like kindness or
broadmindedness or charity, and let everything else go. But if you are
unselfish in one way and selfish in twenty-five other ways your virtue will
not do you much good. In fact, it will probably turn out to be nothing
more than a twenty-sixth variety of the same selfishenss, disguised as
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, p. 179).
Do not think that you can show your love for Christ by hating those who
seem to be His enemies on earth. Suppose they really do hate Him. He loves
them, and you cannot be united with Him unless you love them too.
If you hate the enemies of the Church instead of loving them, you too will run the risk of
becoming an enemy of the Church, and of Christ; for He said: "Love your
enemies," and He also said: "He that is not with me is against me." Therefore
if you do not side with Christ by loving those that He loves, you are against
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, pp. 179-180).
A man cannot be a perfect Christian —that is, a saint— unless he is also a communist. This means that he must
either absolutely give up all right to possess anything at all, or else only
use what he himself needs, of the goods that belong to him, and administer
the rest for other men and for the poor: and in his determination of what he
needs he must be governed to a great extent by the gravity of the needs of
But you will say it is practically impossible for a rich man to put into
practice this clear teaching of Scripture and Catholic tradition. You are right. And there is nothing new in that. He said
it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it was for a
rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
If Christians had lived up to the Church's teaching about property and
poverty there would never have been any occasion for the spurious communism
of the Marxists and all
the rest —whose communism starts out by denying other men the
right to own property.
(Thomas Merton: New Seeds Of Contemplation, p. 181).