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

November 14, 2008

Merton, Murti, and the Madhyamika Attitude

T.R.V. Murti

Merton's Himalayan pilgrimage brings him into living contact with the Buddhist Madhyamika tradition. While in Dharamsala Merton is advised by The Dalai Lama to "get a good base in Madhyamika philosophy and to consult qualified Tibetan scholars, uniting study and practice." Merton reads "The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, A study of the Madhyamika System" by T.R.V. Murti while on his journey. Merton quotes extensively from Murti in the "Himalayan Section" of his Asian Journal.

Madhyamika, in a nutshell, is a Buddhist Mahayāna tradition developed by the 2nd century Indian philosopher Nāgārjuna. It is referred to as "the middle way" "between eternalism—the view that something is eternal and unchanging—and nihilism. Nihilism here means the assertion that all things are intrinsically already destroyed or rendered nonexistent." Wikipedia It is the tradition behind Tibetan Buddhism.
November 14, 1968
On this day Merton shares the following thoughts from Murti...
"The essence of the Madhyamika attitude... consists in not allowing oneself to be entangled in views and theories, but just to observe the nature of things without standpoints." Murti AJTM p.137
"The Madhyamika method is to deconceptualize the mind and to disburden it of all notions... The dialectic is not an avenue for the acquisition of information, but a catharsis; it is primarily a path of purification of the intellect... It is the abolition of all restrictions which conceptual patterns necessarily impose. It is not nihilism, which is itself a standpoint asserting that nothing is." Murti AJTM p.137

With mind mostly muddled... Rob

“After happiness comes suffering.
After suffering arises happiness.
For beings happiness and suffering
Revolve like a wheel.”


Buddhist_philosopher said...

Murti's conception of Mahāyāna is a bit dodgy by today's academic standards. I read parts of his work after/alongside Merton's Asian Journal and recall thinking that he gets about 4 points right on and then one way off - so be careful if you (or your readers) decide to follow Merton in that reading selection. Much recent work has been done to clarify Mahāyāna (Paul Williams' book is top-notch):)

I wrote this blog post back then:


happy blogging, friend.

Jeeprs said...

I know that Murti has fallen into disfavour with many current scholars but Central Philosophy of Buddhism is still a great book from the viewpoint of comparative studies and I would recommend it to anyone.