Tom Chetwynd was born in London in 1938 to Bridget Walsh (also a novelist writing as Bridget Chetwynd) and Randolph Chetwynd. His parents were agnostic but he converted to Catholicism while attending catholic boarding schools Worth and Downside, both run by Benedictine monks. On leaving school he embarked on a hitchhiking trip around Europe which together with a vivid waking dream provided much of the material for his first novel Rushing Nowhere, published in 1958. When his national Service was completed he started working as a cub reporter on local newspapers. After a whirlwind romance Tom married Hélène de Bosmelet in 1959.
An intense period of exploring his own unconscious resulted in novels The Copper Cow (1962) and The Purple Pansy (1966) along with other scripts and stories written in symbolic language. He turned his attention to dreams and produced his Dictionary for Dreamers first published in 1972, which has enabled many people to discover the value and significance of their own dreams.
With the success of the dictionary, he was able to concentrate on the wider significance of symbolism as a whole, not only as it affects the individual through his own personal waking dreams, but also as it appeals to the unconscious through myths, fairy tales, religion, literature, art and cinema. His role was instrumental in achieving breakthroughs in understanding the value and meaning of symbolism and the symbolic language used by dreams, the imagination and the soul. His three volume work: The Language of the Unconscious, Dictionary of Symbols and Dictionary of Sacred Myth were compiled largely from this research.
His interest in religion and Christianity motivated him to study Theology at London University as a mature student with a growing family in the mid 1970's. Having first encountered Zen Buddhism in school, many years later, he began to find that Zen's teachings and the discipline of meditation could illuminate and fortify his Christian practice. For nearly 40 years, Tom Chetwynd combined his Christian and Zen practices and in 1982, he was approved by Sochu Roshi of Ryutakuji Monastery in Japan to teach Zen meditation. Tom led evening sitting groups in London, week-end retreats and week-long sesshins for many years. He has also held workshops and taught meditation in prisons throughout England. In his book Zen and the Kingdom of Heaven (2001) he tells the story of how Zen Buddhism led him to discover the largely forgotten Christian tradition of pure contemplative prayer and how Zen Buddhism can revitalize the rich traditions of prayer and meditation practiced in early Christianity.
Tom died on April 28, 2012 at home as he wished, with Hélène as always by his side. He is survived by his three daughters Yolanda, Natasha and Bridget and 6 grandchildren: Jack, Madhu, Isobel Joseph, Diana and Oliver.