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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Merton, Thomas. (1968)
New York: New Directions Books.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xii + 141 pages.

Contents: Author's Note, 2 untitled parts: 1) 9 essays, Appendix: Is Buddhism Life-Denying?, 2) Wisdom in Emptiness, postface.

Excerpt(s): St. Theresa is a classic example of Christian experience. Though a mystic with her own special charisma, it has long been taken for granted, at least by traditional Catholics, that her mystical consciousness made her actually aware of real-ities which are common to but hidden from all Christians. What others believed, she experienced in herself.

The mystical consciousness of St. Theresa implies a certain basic attitude toward the self. The thinking and feeling and willing self is not the starting point of all verifiable reality and of all experience. The primal truth, the ground of all being and truth, is in God the Creator of all that is. The starting point of all Christian belief and experience (in this context) is the primal reality of God as Pure Actuality. The "existence of God" is not something seen as deducible from our con-scious awareness of our own existence. On the contrary, the experience of the classic Christian mystics is rooted in a meta-physic of being, in which God is intuited as "He Who Is," as the supreme reality, pure Being. The self-centered awareness of the ego is of course a pragmatic psychological reality, but once there has been an inner illumination of pure reality, an awareness of the Divine, the empirical self is seen by compari-son to be "nothing," that is to say contingent, evanescent, relatively unreal, real only in relation to its source and end in God, considered not as object but as free ontological source of one's own existence and subjectivity. To understand this atti-tude, we have to remember that in this view of things Being is not an abstract objective idea but a fundamental concrete intuition directly apprehended in a personal experience that is incontrovertible and inexpressible.

* * * *

The new Christian consciousness, which tends to reject the Being of God as irrelevant (or even to accept as perfectly obvious the "death of God"), must be seen to be an entirely different matter. Here there is no metaphysical intuition of Being, and hence "being" is reduced to an abstract concept, a cipher to figure with, a purely logical entity, surely nothing to be concretely experienced. What is experienced as primary is not "being" or "isness" but individual consciousness, re-flexive ego-awareness. ... (pages 26-27)

For example, when the mystic (of the classic type) claims to rest absorbed in a simple intuition of God's presence and love without seeing or "understanding" any object, the re-flexive consciousness (which I am for the sake of convenience calling Cartesian) interprets this in a peculiar way: either as a stubborn fixation on an imaginary object, on "something out there," or as narcissistic repose of the consciousness in itself. It is true that false mysticism can take on some such appearance as this. The only solution to this problem is to admit that quite probably there is no way for this "Cartesian" type of consciousness to really grasp what the mystics of the classic type are talking about. (Hence the astonishing jumble of the authentic and inauthentic in a book like James' Varieties of Religious Experience.) The same is probably true of the phenomenological consciousness. For either of these, an altogether different road to personal and Christian fulfillment must be found.

The new consciousness naturally turns outward to history, to event, to movement, to progress, and seeks its own identity and fulfillment in action toward historic political or critical goods. In proportion as it is also Biblical and eschatological it approaches the primitive Christian consciousness. But we can see already that "Biblical" and "eschatological" thinking do not comfortably accord with this particular kind of con-sciousness, and there are already signs that it will soon have to declare itself completely post-Biblical, as well as post-Christian.

Meanwhile drugs have appeared as a deus ex machina to enable the self-aware Cartesian consciousness to extend its awareness of itself while seemingly getting out of itself. In other words, drugs have provided the self-conscious self with a substitute for metaphysical and mystical self-transcendence. Perhaps also with a substitute for love? I don't know.

At any rate, the new Christian consciousness would seem to be the product of a kind of phenomenology which more and more questions and repudiates anything that seems to it to be "metaphysical," "Hellenic" and above "mystical." It concerns itself less and less with God as present in being (in his creation) and more and more with God's word as summons to action. God is present not as the experienced transcend-ent presence which is "wholly other" and reduces everything else to insignificance, but in an inscrutable word summon-ing to community with other men. ... (pages 27-28)

In this context, then, the concept of the self as a very present, very concrete center of decision has considerable importance. It matters very much what you are thinking, saying, doing, deciding, here and now. It matters very much what your current commitments are, whom you are with, whom you are against, where you claim to be going, what button you wear, whom you vote for - all this is important. This is obviously proper to men of action who feel that there are old structures to be torn down and new ones to be built. But from such men we must not yet expect either patience with or understanding of mysticism. They will be foredoomed, by their very type of consciousness, to reject it as irrelevant and even un-Christian. Meanwhile we may wonder if what they are developing is not simply a new, more fluid, less doctrinal kind of conformism! (page 29)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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