October 28, 1968
Thomas Merton travelled from Calcutta to New Delhi on October 28, 1968. His journal records the excitement he felt at seeing the Himalayas... "At first it was very stormy and cloudy. and then, all of a sudden I looked out and there they were the Himalayas - several hundred miles away, but an awesome great white wall of the highest mountains I have ever seen. I recognized the ones like Annapurna that are behind Pokhara, and could pick out the highest ones in the group, though not individually. Everest and Kanchenjunga were in the distance."
Wow, pretty good sense of geography for a newcomer to the area!
Huston Smith - Remembering Merton
Huston Smith shared the flight with Thomas Merton. Smith shared a few stories about his connection with Merton in India in a 1992 interview with Mark Keniston.
We were both invited to what was pretentiously called a 'Spiritual Summit Conference' in Calcutta. I went at some considerable inconvenience because I was teaching at MIT, but when I saw that Thomas Merton would be there, I knew that I would move Heaven and Earth to go.
It was a glorious week. Well, (laughs) conferences aren't glorious - anything but glorious. But because of his presence it was so colorful.
I arrived at the hotel and in the evening went down for hors d'oeuvres before dinner. I entered the dining room and there was Merton all by himself. He was alone at a table with his fruit punch and so I went over and right off I had about half an hour with him before anyone else arrived.
I can still remember the first real question I asked him after a couple of preliminaries. I said that I had recognized a very sizable monastic pull in me, but it was also clear that it wasn't for this incarnation. The man/woman thing, family, and the life of a householder clearly outweighed that other. Nevertheless, it was really there and I was drawn to it. So to come to the point right away, I asked him 'What's it like to be a monk?' And his answer really just swept me away. He said 'You know...it's very nice.' (laughs) And my thought was, 'Very nice?' It's about as difficult a 'way' as I can imagine.
Later on, I came across what he said about his three vows. Poverty, he said was a snap - a cinch. Chastity is more difficult but manageable. But obedience is a bugger! And we know from his life how that weighed upon him.
I really liked the guy; he was just wonderful. We ended the week by flying together from Calcutta to Delhi...
I still remember that ride to Delhi. He said he always wanted to do this trek from Kathmandu to Pokhora. He said 'Come on, let's do it!' We were fantasizing that I would wire my dean to say 'Fire me if you must but I won't be home for another ten days!' And he would cancel his schedule-it was all fantasy, but it was fun.
Blessings on this day... Rob