Thomas Merton and the Cosmic Christ

The Cosmic Christ theology was important to Thomas Merton.  His famous mystical experience on crossing Walnut Street in downtown Louisville during noon rush hour, when he saw all these “strangers” lit up like the sun inspired his journal entry the next day when he asked: “How is it possible to tell everyone they are all walking around shining like the sun?”

How indeed!  By naming the Cosmic Christ experience.

On many occasions Merton speaks of the Cosmic Christ, for example when he writes:

“We are other Christs….We ourselves are ‘the Second Adam’ because we ourselves are Christ. In us, the image of God, which is complete and entire in each individual soul, is also, in all of us ‘the image of God.’…We are all dwelling in one another, by virtue of the unity of the divine image reformed by grace.”

“Monk and elephant.” Photo by Sirisakboakaew, Adobe Stock

Of course he is influenced by Meister Eckhart’s teachings that we are other Christs and that we give birth to the Christ.

In his journal Merton wrote:

“Who am I? A Son of God….My true self is the self that is spoken by God–‘Thou art My Son!’ Our responsibility (ability and obligation to respond). Tremendous happiness and clarity (in darkness) is my response: ‘Abba, Father!’”

Merton pivots to the Buddhist understanding of the Buddha nature in all things.  “In Zen enlightenment, the discovery of the ‘original face before you were born’ is the discovery not that one sees Buddha but that one is Buddha.” 

“Elders’ Art Class.” Photo by Monkey Business, Adobe Stock

In his book Mystics & Zen Masters, Merton compared the Zen teaching of a direct grasp of one’s “original face” to Paul’s Christ-based mysticism: “Such is the attainment of the ‘Buddha mind,’ or ‘Buddha hood.’  (Compare the Christian expressions ‘having the mind of Christ’ [1 Cor. 2:16]; being ‘of one Spirit with Christ;’ and ‘He who is united to the Lord is one spirit’ [1 Cor. 6:17].)” 

This is Cosmic Christ talk.  Merton is recognizing the Cosmic Christ—the Christ in all beings—as parallel to the Buddha nature experience in Buddhism.

Merton sees God in all things: “We do not see the Blinding One in black emptiness.  He speaks to us gently in ten thousand things….He shines not on them but from within them.”  The Cosmic Christ – or Buddha nature – is present in all beings and is more than present; is radiating light and shining forth.  The glory or doxa of the Christ beams from inside all of us. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox,  A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 229, 230-231, 232
See also: Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 325-353, 213-218.
Banner Image: “People in Bokeh, street of London.” Photo by Iakov Kalinin, Adobe Stock

For Deeper Contemplation

Take a phrase or word from this meditation and be still with it, letting it wash over you and through and through you. Repeat it as a mantra. Be with the silence that follows. Be with, be with….

Be with the teaching that Christ shines not on us but from within us.  Let the teaching wash over your and work through you.

Is it your experience—can it be—that “God speaks to us in ten thousand things”?  Recount such things.  Pick up a leaf.  Is that such a thing, such a revelation?

Write a poem that expresses your experience of the Cosmic Christ.

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.

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5 thoughts on “Thomas Merton and the Cosmic Christ”

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Josephine,
      You must be shining like the sun because it your light is coming to the rest of us through internet! May you continue to find the Christ light within you and in those you meet.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Tea

  1. Avatar

    THIS is the Good News! we have already inherited the kingdom/queendom of God. We are already sons and daughters of the Divine. May we live into this reality. It is like one of the first songs I learned as a child ‘….this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…’

  2. Avatar
    Cheryl M Burton

    There is a quote by St Therese of Lisieux that shows up once in a while on Pinterest, and by the placement of it with the types of pins surrounding it, someone who truly knows what she is talking about can tell what goes through the minds of the persons placing it. The fleshly inferences are obvious. Also it was translated from French and could have been made understood if a short explanation was attached. In the quote she refers to picking up a pin ???? for love? But all she really is referring to is truly a simple common pin used in sewing. They are used to hold up hems or hold patterns together until they are sewn, so that many of these pins naturally end up on the floor and it would be an act of kindness to pick it up before someone barefoot steps on it.

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