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 24, 2008

On the Road Again

November 24, 1968

Merton has travelled from Darjeeling to Kurseong in readiness for tomorrow's flight to Calcutta. He is ready to move on and writes... "My mind turns to Ceylon, Thailand, and Indonesia. I want to see something else. I have seen the mountains and the gompas." AJTM p.167

Harold Talbott
Merton's companion through this stage of his journey has been Harold Talbott, an American student of Buddhism studying under the Dalai Lama. Merton writes of Harold... "Harold left this morning for Bagdogra, Calcutta, Delhi, and Dharamsala. He has been extremely helpful and generous; he paid my bill at the Windamere and shared all kinds of time, ideas, information and help." AJTM p.166

Merton and the Tibetan Lamas
During this brief exposure to Tibetan Buddhism Merton was able to meet many significant teachers. Judith Simmer-Brown writes in "The Liberty that Nobody Can Touch" (found in "Merton & Buddhism:Wisdom, Emptiness & Everyday Mind") that Merton's experience amongst the Tibetan exiles had many of the classic characteristics of the "liberation stories" of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. She writes... "First he met a guru who pointed out the prerequisite for the view of Dzogchen, the change of motivation that entails the renunciation of "Spiritual materialism" [Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche]. Then he met two gurus who discussed the importance of the teacher and the essential nonconceptuality of Dzogchen [Khamtrul Rinpoche and Chokling Rinpoche]. Next he received the basic Tibetan Buddhist meditation instruction from His Holines the Dalai Lama. He met the guru who he felt would be his Dzogchen teacher and investigated the parameters of retreat [Chadral Rinpoche]. And then he went on a short retreat to reflect on his Asian pilgrimage, and to ask the question, should I practice Dzogchen?" MB pp.54-55

Not bad for 25 days in November 1968.

An "In the Footsteps" Footnote
Merton Pilgrim, Donald Grayston, recounts a powerful and transformative experience as he followed in Merton's Asian footsteps during a 3-month pilgrimage in 2000-2001. Grayston has an audience with Chadral Rinpoche, one of the great Tibetan masters that Merton met in Dharamsala. During this meeting Grayston finds himself "silently weeping". Ignoring the long list of questions he has prepared Grayston simply asks the great teacher "Do you have a teaching for me?" Chadral Rinpoche responds... "Yes. Decide for yourself what is the most important thing that Jesus ever said, and then take it as far as you can." Grayston carries this thought for several months before the words of Jesus arise within him "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" (Matthew 5:37), something he has been trying to take "as far as he can" ever since. Look for the fuller telling of this story in the winter issue of the Merton Seasonal or visit Don's website.

Calcutta Riots
Merton makes a journal reference to riots that have taken place in Calcutta around the visit of World Bank President, and former US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Merton writes... "In Calcutta there has been a Marxist riot led by Maoist students. They burned McNamara in effigy and set fire to busses. Tomorrow I will be there." AJTM p.168

November 24, 1963
Here are a couple of events which I note in the wake of JFK's assassination 5 years earlier (Wikipedia)...
- Lee Harvey Oswald is fatally shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. The shooting was broadcast live on television. [That didn't take long!]
- Vietnam War: Newly sworn-in US President Lyndon B. Johnson confirms that the United States intends to continue supporting South Vietnam both militarily and economically. [That didn't take long either!!]

Happy trails to you... Rob

"Kanchenjunga has been hidden for three days. I will probably not see it again." Thomas Merton AJTM p.168

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