A 40 Year "Retrospective Journey"

“Be good, keep your feet dry,
your eyes open, your heart at peace
and your soul in the joy of Christ.”
Thomas Merton

December 10, 2008

The Death of Thomas Merton

January 31, 1915 - December 10, 2008
On December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton died of an accidental electric shock from a faulty electric fan in his cottage at the Red Cross Conference Center in Samut Prakan, Thailand. Merton had presented a paper at a conference of monastics that morning.

Merton's Death and Journey Home
For an excellent summary of the circumstances around Merton's death in Thailand and his journey home to Gethsemani I invite you to visit Beth at "Louie, Louie". She posted on this a couple of years ago and it is still a worthwhile read. Read more...

Grayston Reflects
International Thomas Merton Society President Donald Grayston provides the following reflection on Merton's death...

Merton dies at Suwanganiwas, the Red Cross Centre at Samut Prakan, 30 km outside Bangkok, accidentally electrocuted. It is 27 years to the day since he entered Gethsemani, and a mere eight days after his deep experience at Polonnaruwa.

Red Cross Center (Grayston Photo)

His Christian identity was expressed and symbolized for us by the fact that he said mass in Bangkok on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic calendar, two days before his death. I mention this because some commentators have said that towards the end of his life he abandoned Christian faith and became a Buddhist. On the contrary, he opened himself fully to Buddhist experience and understanding, which he much valued, as a fully-formed Catholic Christian.

Death of the Master
Both east and west share four kinds of death—natural causes, accident, murder, suicide. But in the east there is a fifth category, the death of the master. This involves the master gathering his disciples around him, giving them his last words, doing or saying something absurd, and then dying.

So I Will Disappear
The example of this with which we are most familiar is that of Jesus at the last supper, the “absurd” element being his strange words about the bread and wine of the meal being his body and blood. At the conference Merton was attending, all the Catholic participants had read Merton’s books, and were eagerly awaiting his words (pp. 326-43), at the end of which he said “So I will disappear”—this much in the AJTM (p. 343), and followed this with a classically Mertonian comment—“and we can all get a Coke or something” (not included in the AJTM, but clearly audible in the film of his talk).

The Great Compassion
The other monks and nuns who held a vigil after his death said that “In death Father Louis’ [his monastic name] face was set in a great and deep peace ….” (p. 346). He had fulfilled the intention with which he set out on his Asian pilgrimage. He had settled the Great Affair, and had found also the Great Compassion, mahakaruna (see p. 4).

With thanks again to Don Grayston

Peace and blessing... Rob

"Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life." Thomas Merton


walter said...

Hello Rob, This site is very informative and it reflects Thomas Merton's body of work which is beautifully sublime.I am living in Australia and have recently come back from his father's hometown Christchurch NZ.I have been deeply touched by his call to faith and his ecumenical work for Jesus Christ. I have read 'The Seven storey MTn' and several of his meditions on modern life.Keep up the good work. Walter B. Sprinkle

joel said...

Is there any way to get a recording of his message at the red cross conference? I have looked everywhere but to no avail.

Rob Pollock said...

Hi Joel,

I understand that Merton's final speech may be available from Credence Communication...
If you cannot find it there you could try contacting Paul Pearson at the Thomas Merton Center...

Good Luck...

sherando1 said...

You might enjoy this rather new Merton site at: http://mertonocso.wordpress.com

Stan Dotson said...

Thanks for your reflection. FYI, I wrote about Merton in my Daily Passages blog today, on the anniversary of his entry into the monastery. You can check it out here if you're interested: http://inourelements.com/1-daily-passages/i-love-lucy
Stan Dotson

Robert Earl Stewart said...

Rob, Thanks for your contributions to the legacy of Thomas Merton. Like many, I am curious about the details surrounding his death. I recall reading somewhere that it may have been the wet bath mat he was standing on when he touched the electric fan that caused the fatal electrocution. Had he been standing on the terrazzo floor, he may have only received a strong shock. Have you ever read or heard anything like this?


Bob Stewart
Windsor, Ont.