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Zen and the Birds of Appetite

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  921 ratings  ·  49 reviews
"Zen enriches no one," Thomas Merton provocatively writes in his opening statement to Zen and the Birds of Appetite—one of the last books to be published before his death in 1968. "There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle for a while... but they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the 'nothing,' the 'no-body' that was there, suddenly appears. That is ...more
Paperback, 141 pages
Published 1968 by New Directions
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 ·  921 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Joseph Dunn
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book has more personal significance for me than most others. Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk, poet, writer, and social activist. I highly reccommend this book for anyone interested in Christianity, Zen, or the spiritual experience. I read this when I was in high school, during a time when I had rejected a fundamentalist / literal interpretation of Christianity and was exploring eastern philosophy, but had not quite grasped the principles of eastern thought. Because I grew up indoctrinated ...more
Owlseyes on notre dame, it's so strange a 15-hour blaze and...

"The Zen consciousness is compared to a mirror" Thomas Merton

"The mirror is thoroughly egoless and mindless" Zenkei Shibayma ,On Zazen Wasan
Cole J. Banning
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cole J. Banning by: Mark Shiner
Shelves: favorites
I take it for granted that if you want to understand Zen, then reading the work of a Catholic monk is probably not the way to do it. Merton's account of a Zen which is radically divorceable from the Buddhist context in which it developed is almost certain to be appropriative. So it goes.

That said, Merton's account of a Zen Catholicism nonetheless remains a powerful vision of what a (completely orthodox, and perhaps at times too completely orthodox) Christian theological praxis centered on mystic
Benjamin Vineyard
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
Initial Question:
How does Merton connect Zen (distinct from Buddhism) to the story of Jesus? What's "broken" and how does Merton suggest redemption and repair?

Musings Influenced by the Book:
Zen is not a thing; it's more of an absence. Within the Christian experience, it is the absence of resistance to Christ living in us and through us. Zen is not an obedience, but an alive-ness to what is, an absence of the question - it simply is.

Stripped of its Buddhist story, Zen as a reality fits within th
Nancy Bevilaqua
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I think that I've gone as far with this book as I can. Actually, I've read most, if not all, of it in bits and pieces over the past few years, but this time I thought that I should sit down and read it start-to-finish.

I didn't quite make it to "finish", but that really has nothing to do with Merton's writing. I've just personally reached a stage at which I'm put off by "theology" (in its definition as a "rational definition of religious questions" or a "system or school of opinions concerning Go
Elizabeth Andrew
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
These are Merton's reflections on the intersections between Zen Buddhism and mystical Christianity, and like all his writings are excellent. Being in the thick of a contemplative practice helps me understand his observations; I'm not sure this book would have made any sense even a year ago.
Erik Akre
Feb 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students of Zen, practicioners of Zen, students and practiciouners of Catholic mysticism
It became so obvious, by the end of Thomas Merton's life, that he had fully absorbed the lessons of Zen Buddhism. It was a relatively small step, really, from his earlier writing (examples can be found in the stern statements in New Seeds of Contemplation). It appears to me that all that time living in a hovel in the woods removed "religion" from Merton's approach to life, and left him simply empty of the world. This book is the final celebration of how he transformed from a strict Catholic myst ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a wonderful book for those seeking a more mystical approach to the tenets of Christianity. Merton does an amazing job of simplifying the core differences (and similarities!) between Zen-Buddhism and Christianity. He does a god job of documenting some of the more "radical" theologians in the Church's history and "New Consciousness."

Some of the passages benefit from re-reading; not because they are difficult to comprehend, but because of the meditative nature of some of messages. This is n
Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, religion
The title's deceiving. From the title, I expected this book to cover how Zen deals with desire. Instead, I got a book that was more concerned with finding common ground between Christianity and Zen for fruitful dialog without falling into syncreticism.

The author's approach is interesting. He is very sympathetic to Zen and acknowledges a commonality to mystic experience, but still manages to avoid the "all religions are the same" message of some other books.

The author still manages to teach a fe
Brian Tucker
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
St. Bonaventure - God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.
Phil Calandra
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is my second reading of Thomas Merton's "Zen and the Birds of Appetite". This book entails discussions comparing and contrasting insights of Christian Mysticism and Buddhism. Although perhaps difficult to the casual reader, the discussions are intriguing and are generally well explained. In their description of the "inner reality" or the direct confrontation with the "Absolute," "Being," or "Void," Christianity's explanation is theological and affective and through love. The individual is s ...more
Steven Tryon
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have had the book for a while but do not remember having read it. Maybe I started it and found it impenetrable. Having just read Merton's Asian Journal and The Way of Chuang Tzu I decided it was time to (re)read it.

At this point in my journey I found it most helpful, clarifying and resolving difficulties and ambiguities raised by the other two.

Highly recommended, but not until you are ready.
Cooper Renner
Sep 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Sometimes too abstracted for me, but still an interesting look at the convergence points of zen and Christianity.
Mark Kellermeyer
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My first introduction to Zen. This book messed with my head for all the days I was reading it, and is still a puzzle I haven't solved.
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the first thing I've read by Merton, and found it pretty amazing. So interesting, his ability to synthesize such different perspectives.
Manuel Amorin
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zen and Christanity

Intellectuality stimulating, and thought provoking read! There's nothing superficial about this book, Merton dives deep into the subject. Excellent read! I
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Where there is a lot of fuss about "spirituality", "enlightenment" or just "turning on", it is often because there are buzzards hovering around a corpse.
Hao Ca Vien
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thank you! I loved your book! Thank you much!
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Love the cover art. Interesting to read these 1960s essays about Zen from a Christian perspective - easier for someone like me to understand.
pages 30-31 Is there some opening for the Christian consciousness today? If there is, it will have to meet the following great needs of man:
(1) need for community, for a genuine relationship of authentic love with his fellow man - this will imply a deep, in fact completely radical, seriousness in approaching those critical problems which threaten ma
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book. Merton alleges that Zen is the art of truly seeing oneself and reality in the moments before the mind tries to abstract and objectify what it sees. The concept of Zen (exclusive of all religious thought), is the art of appreciating what truly IS, rather than what we want it to be, according to Merton. The further Zen Buddhist goals of emptying oneself to appreciate the infinite, is also of value to the Christian, Merton says, in that we also need to release our egos wants ...more
Pam Mcmahon
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am only 1/4 of the way through this marvelous book and I already have to give it a 5 star rating. Zen is something you experience; but try to explain it? Try to explain it in its purest form...for instance, Merton gives the example that, to place Zen in the context of Buddhism, is like making Spanish Baroque essential to St John of the Cross; he may have lived in that era, but is inconsequential to who he was - the perfect clarification of an otherwise commonly misconstrued notion. And on, and ...more
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: personal
I wasn't surprised that Taoism is compatible with Catholicism because I came to the same conclusion, but I was surprised to see it articulated, especially so long ago. For lack of a better word, I have a better "understanding" of Zen now. The newest insight, however, was reconciling true poverty (not even keeping an empty space inside yourself for God like when Jesus was on the cross) and enlarging your capacity for the gifts God wants to give you. I think that on our spiritual journeys, enlargi ...more
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm note even quite finished, but I can't help myself from giving it 5 stars. Every page has contained treasures. A Trappist Monk like Thomas Merton is able to give me a form of Christianity that embraces Taoist or Buddhist principles like Zen in a way that allows me not only to keep my Christianity and desires for religious identity, but gives room to expand and deepen those by bringing this way of seeing within the Christian tradition. Zen is not, after all, a system or dogma. "Zen explains no ...more
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it
A good book concerned with approaching Zen and its affinities to Western Religious traditions. Merton makes a wise distinction between Zen and Buddhism, and a further distinction between Zen and the Christian Mystics. This is not an intellectually lazy book, yet it does not get trapped in the usual circular explanations of Zen "thought".
The book is broken into sections of a manageable size. And the last portion is a dialogue between Father Thomas Merton and D.T. Suzuki. Their tone is amiable, bu
Rodrigo J
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you will only read one book on mysticism, this may be the one. It's so powerful to see a Christian monk talk of Oriental mysticism. It will change your spiritual concepts, it will open you to the orient, your idea of God, religion, etc.

You get the feeling that he goes as far AA he could before be oping a heretic, since dogmas have no place in spirituality.

It's so moving, so beautiful to sense a monk going to the limits, and inviting you to go farther, where he could not go (in written form)
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I think Merton was far above me in intelligence and obviously also had training in philosophy which I have not. That said, I still plod through some of his writings because they still contain some pearls of wisdom even ignorant ones like me can use. However, it is work! So if someone asked me to recommend one of Merton's books, I'd probably steer clear of this one. "No Man is an Island" would be a better choice, but also not easy to read and sometimes aimed at the monk's life rather than life in ...more
Camille McCarthy
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting book of essays written by a Trappist monk on the connections between Zen and Catholicism. It was not an easy read but it was interesting and clarified a lot of things about what Zen actually is, which was helpful, looking back on "the Dharma Bums". It confirmed my suspicions that "the Dharma Bums" didn't really know what Zen was and were just using it as an excuse to get drunk every night and not care, even though they might have understood bits and pieces of what they were preachin ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Thomas Merton links Zen and Christian Mysticism, which is, to say the least, a supreme challenge. Finding the common ground isn’t the challenge. The challenge is to get Western readers to think non-dualistically. For example, to Christians the phrase “from God” implies a hypothetical center of all being, what T.S. Elliot calls “the still point of the turning world.” For Buddhists what implies a hypothetical center of all being is the phrase “the Void”. The void and the point—they are one in the ...more
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Open minded Christians or adventurous Buddhists

Vintage Merton!
My second revisit and therefore third reading.
Open minded, erudite, curious and honest yet not a hint of syncretism, pluralism nor any other feather-brained-fusion for that matter. As far away from Western Supermarket Spirituality as you can get. The essay 'A Christian Looks at Zen', as a work of comparative religion, is as good an introduction to both true Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism as you will find anywhere.
Andrew Price
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Merton is the most recent mystical theologians. This work is comparing the theology of Zen Buddhism and Catholicism, from a man who had a life long interest with Buddhism as well as a long term correspondence with a Buddhism monk. The book is wonderful to hear a view on eastern religion from a Catholic monk, there should be more interest in the truths that come from those faiths.
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Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
“Faith is the door to the full inner life of the Church, a life which includes not only access to an authoritative teaching but above all to a deep personal experience which is at once unique and yet shared by the whole Body of Christ, in the Spirit of Christ.” 8 likes
“As long as this “brokenness” of existence continues, there is no way out of the inner contradictions that it imposes upon us. If a man has a broken leg and continues to try to walk on it, he cannot help suffering. If desire itself is a kind of fracture, every movement of desire inevitably results in pain. But even the desire to end the pain of desire is a movement, and therefore causes pain. The desire to remain immobile is a movement. The desire to escape is a movement. The desire for Nirvana is a movement. The desire for extinction is a movement. Yet there is no way for us to be still by “imposing stillness” on the desires. In a word, desire cannot stop itself from desiring, and it must continue to move and hence to cause pain even when it seeks liberation from itself and desires its own extinction.” 1 likes
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