Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Merton follow up
For whatever reason, I didn't mark the places I thought were interesting in a cross over, similarities in the spiritual life of Thomas Merton and mine as a Buddhist, but I think he spoke to me on many occasions in The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton is often an awesome writer.
In 1947 Bhante comes out with A Survey of Buddhism, and in 1948 Merton comes out with The Seven Storey Mountain. I'd need to be better versed in those times to see if there was much cross over, but it feels significant that those two classics come out around the same years. They both found the conflict of writing and being spiritual, saw themselves as split between two people, at times.
I learned an awful lot about Catholicism. In the end I find the focus on sin, the negativity, threats and fake spirituality a real turn off. Maybe I've just never heard a definition of God that I understand. I like that Buddhism doesn't need a creator god to grease the wheels.
I have known some very awesome Catholics who I really respected, and I believe you can go deep in any spiritual tradition. I inherently respect it that others must find their own path. When I first found my path, I wanted everyone to know it, and I had a kind of evangelical zeal, that is obnoxious, misplaced, and doesn't listen. A kind of immaturity, which I grew out of, hopefully. It helps my spiritual life to read about other traditions. In a way, I want to stay away from Christianity because our culture is so saturated with it, but Merton makes it worth it to me.
I get into scuffles with people about spirituality and religion. People are against the obviously wrong things religious organizations can do, or people in power in religious organizations can do. I don't think that touches the deep spirituality in each tradition. I'd rather focus on the positive potential in depth, while keeping an eye out for abuses, than to focus on the abuses and wrongs, and ignore the potential goodness. Merton was very keen to the way we can dissemble and rationalize anything, within himself.
I translate all the talk of God, to talk about using other power in my spirituality. We need self power, community power and other power to get very far in the spiritual life.
What strikes me is how alone he is, until he enters into Gethsemani, which is nearly the whole book. He meets Catherine de Hueck, who encourages him. And he reads a lot, which is a kind of one way impersonal communication. But he takes a 3 year spiritual journey, mostly alone, with little help, which he acknowledges wasted time. He had friends, but not in his spiritual life. I dislike that because I am guilty of this fault. I need to connect more with sangha.
So I found one mention of Thomas Merton on FBA, an uncorrected seminar transcript, where Sangharakshita talks about obedience, and says he read a biography of Thomas Merton. Sangharakshita is talking about his time where he just did what his teacher told him to do. I don't know enough about the life of Thomas Merton, just this autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, so I don't know about his vow of obedience.
In the comments of my last post, someone suggest reading the Asian Journals, which you can get as a pdf (here). Bhante and others seem to reference them a few times in the seminars, mostly because of of Bhante's guru's was met by Merton, Chetul Sangye Dorje.
The Eternal Legacy is Bhante's book on the writings of Buddhism. I've never really read an equivalent one for Christianity, but I followed Merton's spiritual journey a little bit. I found The Story of a Soul, which includes audio and a list of other resources. I was tempted to read the Lives of the Saints, after a visit to the Cloisters, but it was hard to determine which one was the best to read. It turns out there are many versions, and edited down versions. (I decided I'd rather read about Padmasambhava or Milarepa.) I couldn't find any free video or audio of Merton beyond the movie on Netflix (which isn't, after all, free).
I suppose I'll try to dip into spiritual classics of other traditions once in a while, because it makes for a broader world, and I do enjoy memoirs and especially spiritual memoirs. The Seven Storey Mountain is a universal spiritual classic.