Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Each One..


Each one shall sit at table with his own cup and spoon,
and with his own repentance.
Each one's own business shall be his most important affair,
and provide his own remedies.
They have neglected bowl and plate.
Have you a wooden fork?
Yes, each monk has a wooden fork as well as a potato.


Each one shall wipe away tears with his own saint,
when three bells hold in store a hot afternoon.
Each one is supposed to mind his own heart,
with its conscience,
night and morning.
Another turn on the wheel : ho hum!
And observe the Abbot!
Time to go to bed in a straw blanket.


Plenty of bread for everyone
between prayers and the psalter :
will you recite another?
Merci, and Miserere.
Always mind both the clock and the Abbot until eternity.


Details of the Rule are all liquid and solid.
What canon was the first to announce regimentation before us?
Mind the step on the way down!
Yes, I dare say you are right, Father.
I believe you; I believe you.
I believe it is easier when they have ice water and even a lemon.
Each one can sit at table with his own lemon,
and mind his own conscience.


Can we agree that the part about the lemon is regular?
In any case, it is better to have sheep than peacocks,
and cows rather than a chained leopard says Modest,
in one of his proverbs.
The monastery, being owner of a communal rowboat,
is the antechamber of heaven.
Surely that ought to be enough.


Each one can have some rain
after Vespers on a hot afternoon,
but ne quid nimis,
or the purpose of the Order will be forgotten.
We shall send you hyacinths and a sweet millennium.
Everything the monastery provides is very pleasant to see
and to sell for nothing.
What is baked smells fine.
There is a sign of God on every leaf
that nobody sees in the garden.
The fruit trees are there on purpose,
even when no one is looking.
Just put the apples in the basket.
In Kentucky there is also room for a little cheese.
Each one shall fold his own napkin,
and neglect the others.


Rain is always very silent in the night,
under such gentle cathedrals.
Yes, I have taken care of the lamp, Miserere.
Have you a patron saint, and an angel?
Thank you.
Even though the nights are never dangerous,
I have one of everything.

~ Thomas Merton (1915 ~ 1968)

(A Practical Program for Monks)

A Photograph By Thomas Merton

The dialogue between the Orient and the Occident has been historically elevating. Such two-way processes to comprehend the broader similarities and the underlying differences between Oriental mysticism and Occidental theology were attempted by many. Among them, the corpus of work of Thomas Merton stands out as an important landmark. Merton's most significant writings include his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain and his study of Zen entitled Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Besides his close association with DT Suzuki, the quintessential scholar on Zen philosophy, Merton was also an avid photographer. That makes the journey of discovering Merton more exciting.

It is not known as to who had taken the photograph atop, of a child playing with the paper boats. But it does capture one of those intensely meditative Zen moments, which can be felt in the photographic works of Merton as well. He lived for about five decades till he passed away in 1968, enjoying jazz and poetry, being a social activist and above all, intimately interacting with the Eastern philosophical traditions. All the while, he continued to be an ardent and loyal descendant of the precepts formulated by Saint Benedict of Nursia, belonging to the 6th Century and the guiding polestar for monastic living in Christianity.

The Roman Catholic religious Order of contemplative monks who follow the Rule of St.Benedict are called the Trappists, if they are males and Trappistines, if they are females. The followers of this Order take the three vows for stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. The emphasis is more on silence than to indulge in any general or idle talk. They even have a distinct monastic sign language to dissuade from talking. The monasteries are allowed to brew beer and to sell it to the outsiders. Interestingly, the monks are not prohibited from drinking beer. No wonder, the Trappist Beer is considered to be among the finest in the world.

A Practical Program For Monks is a meditative poem on the zeniths and abysses of monastic life, being led by quite a significant few, in their search for salvation. While looking at their ascetic temperament in a satirical and self-critical way, the poem also opens up new vistas of understanding life. It captures the not-so-ossified mindscape of a spiritually sensitive monk, who reflects upon the transcendence of life through everyday routine and the million mysteries that are embedded in its myriad happenings. It adds varied hues and colours to the predicament of life, where everyone is fundamentally alone and are destined to find out their own inner solitary truths.

This mystical poetry reaches out to the sky in the following lines :

There is a sign of God on every leaf

that nobody sees in the garden.

The fruit trees are there on purpose,

even when no one is looking.

The most beautiful part of Merton's life is the way in which he fell in love with a nurse named Margie towards the later part of his life. He was torn apart between his passion for his ladylove and his beloved Jesus. But that made him more human. In the latest book on Merton written by Mark Shaw, which got published only last year and appropriately entitled Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Released Him, there is an illuminating passage which is excerpted as under :

Beneath the mask of holiness, the plastic saint image promoted by the Catholic Church, was a sunken man who yearned for love while realizing he could never truly be one with God until he found it. Then, the skies opened up and there was a gift, the love of a woman. It is no wonder Merton grabbed the chance to experience love despite the risks involved. And Margie taught him about loving, and being loved, opening up a path to freedom Merton never knew existed..


  1. Very interesting blog. More than the poem in itself the write up throws up interesting facts and certainly makes us want to know more about Merton. The two photographs are wonderful to say the least. Looking forward to more such posts!

  2. Wonderful blog. I enjoyed the write up for the way it brought out the essence of the poem and the poet instead of setting out to explain each and every line of the poem thereby kindling the imagination of the reader and allowing the reader to undertake his/her own journey with the poem.

    Both the photographs are amazingly beautiful. While the photograph of the child and her paper boats capture the innocence and sincere trust that comes with childhood, the window on a late Autumn Afternoon seems to reflect the beautiful meditative life of the monks. It reminds me of a poem by Rumi..
    "At night, I open the window
    And ask the moon to come
    And press it's face against mine
    Breathe into me.

    Close the language door
    And open the love window
    The moon won't use the door
    Only the window.."

    No wonder it is an apt photograph while talking of the life of Merton for, he had opened his window and let his love in, to fill his soul. I particularly liked the line of Mark Shaw " (he)... Was a sunken man who yearned for love while realizing he could never truly be one with God until he found it". The heights that human love can reach with all it's longing and pain can only be a step away towards the love for our Gods and probably only this can be the true path towards God. In his own words ' Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another'.