Before he converted to Catholicism at age twenty-three, he read about Christian mysticism. He read works such as who is jesus christ” and Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ,” and other books that subconsciously embedded within him a taste of directly experiencing God through the process of negation.
After ordaining as a monk, Merton was interested only in Catholicism for many years and nothing else, but little by little, as he became older, and after reading such authors as St. John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart, he began to become increasingly interested in mysticism, or a direct experience of God.
Merton then began to understand the universal nature of mysticism, and that Buddhism, especially, addressed mysticism more clearly than Christianity did regarding how to understand it, and more importantly provided a non-religious method to make a fundamental change in one’s life. This attracted him to Zen, and eventually he co-authored “Zen and the Birds of Appetite” with D. T. Suzuki which uniquely spelled out the similarities of Buddhism and Christianity at deeper, mystical levels. Merton began to explore universal spiritual truth within the structure of his Catholic faith.
For some, Buddhism has become an organized religion just like any other religion, with beliefs, ceremonies and rituals. However, the original Buddhism, as taught by the Buddha, was all about personal transformation, and not about religion at all.
This is what makes fundamental Buddhism compatible with other religions; that there are no requirements of belief involved. It is completely experiential, and deals with life and the problems of life directly. It addresses the reality that we all experience stress, and answers all the questions surrounding this stress. Buddhism also lays out a logical plan to end this stress forever.
So Buddhism could be called a philosophy of how to live one’s life day to day. It explains why just trying to be good doesn’t work without an understanding of good and bad, and of our fundamental selves. We scrunch up our determination to change, but it never quite works out as we meet our same old self time and again when the going gets rough.
Buddhism could also be called a psychology because it delves into areas of the mind at deeper levels than modern psychology that only dabbles in the surface irregularities, never getting to the root.