When you look at photography as a medium through Merton’s Zen lens, all photography begins to take on a Zen feel.
Although Merton wasn’t an art historian and had few photographic influences beyond his circle of friends who worked as photographers, it’s almost too easy to see images such as , for example, Merton might be riffing on Zen ideas of the “gateless gate” (in which there is no outside or inside, which are only illusory distinctions) as well as “the weeds of thinking” (which we first “weed” from our consciousness and then use to “fertilize” future Zen practice).
Merton’s 1948 bestselling autobiography century, inspired the ‘50s generation to consider the clergy, but later inspired the ‘60s generation (and all those that followed) to see religious faith as another aspect of the countercultural.
Merton’s radical faith of action and outreach across political and denominational lines remains a fascinating example for study today, as shown by this exhibition designed by the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University ( Pearson explains in his catalog essay, “Thomas Merton: Photographer,” “Thomas Merton showed little interest in photography until the final years of his life.
Near the end of his life, during a trip to Asia in 1968, Trappist monk, poet, theologian, and social activist Thomas Merton (shown below) came away from seeing ancient carved Buddhas deeply moved.