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 23, 2008

Back in Darjeeling

November 23, 1968
Merton's time amongst the Tibetan exiles is drawing to a close. In a couple of days he will be back in Calcutta and then off to Madras briefly before heading to Sri Lanka (Ceylon in Merton's day), Singapore, and finally back to Bangkok.

Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989)

Today Merton visits Kalu Rinpoche, a Tibetan retreat master in Sonada. At the time of Merton's visit there were 16 Buddhist hermits in three year retreats with Karlu.

Merton writes..."Khempo Karlu [Kalu] Rimpoche invited me to come and make this hermit retreat at his place or, failing that, to write him with my questions. That was very kind of him. With my reaction to this climate at its best and with the noise of the Indian radio in the cottage across the road from the hemitage, I guess it is still Alaska or California or Kentucky for me." AJTM pp.166-67

Kalu Dharma Centers
Kalu Rinpoche went on to become a significant teacher of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Kalu Rinpoche established over twenty 3-year retreat centers in Europe, USA, Asia, and Canada. There is a Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Centre, Kagyu Kunkhyab Chuling, in Vancouver which traces its origin and lineage to Kalu Rinpoche.

All My Life's a Circle

Kalu Rinpoche passed away in Sonada on May 10, 1989. Through reincarnation the lineage of his teaching is maintained. The Third Kalu Rinpoche (Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche) was born on September 17, 1990 and lives in India. This Fall, at the age of 18, Kalu Rinpoche completed the traditional 3-year 3-month retreat.

Peace... Rob

"We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves."
Thomas Merton

November 22, 2008

The White Album

November 22, 1968
The "White Album", released today, is a true classic. It was standard fare at any of the gatherings with my best buddies through highschool. I can still remember every song although I haven't heard most of them for 30 years!

A Little Background
Most of the songs that would end up on "The Beatles" [White Album] had been conceived during the group's visit to Rishikesh, India in the spring of 1968. There, they had undertaken a transcendental meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Although the retreat, which had required long periods of meditation, was initially conceived by the band as a spiritual respite from all worldly endeavours – a chance, in Lennon's words, to "get away from everything" – both Lennon and McCartney had quickly found themselves in songwriting mode, often meeting "clandestinely in the afternoons in each other's rooms" to review the new work. "Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing," Lennon would later recall, "I did write some of my best songs there." Close to forty new compositions had emerged in Rishikesh..." Wikipedia

Some Memorable Tracks

"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
"I'm So Tired"
"Rocky Raccoon"
"I Will"

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"
"Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
"Sexy Sadie"
"Helter Skelter"
"Revolution 1"
"Honey Pie"
"Cry Baby Cry"
"Revolution 9"
"Good Night"

Ob-la-di.... Rob

“And in the end, the love we take will be equal to the love we make.”
The Beatles

Back in the USSR

From the "White Album"

Released November 22, 1968

JFK Assassination

November 22, 1963
Houghton, Michigan
I was a first grader at the public school in Houghton, Michigan on November 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I remember that the teacher came into our classroom and simply told us that class was dismissed and we were all to go straight home. The images of this tragic event and the ensuing days are etched in my mind... the slow-motion Dallas motorcade, the shooting of Oswald, the flag-draped casket and riderless horse, a child's salute, a family in grief, a nation in mourning.

November 22, 1963
Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky
Merton writes... "When I came down to the monastery from the woods this afternoon one of the novices met me in the door of the novitiate and told me that President Kennedy had been shot and had died, in Dallas, Texas, an hour and a half before. At first I could not believe it. I told him it must be an irresponsible rumour. No, it was quite true... The whole thing leaves one sick. Sick at the madness, the useless ferocity, the aimless violence that marks so much of the life of this country. No matter who killed the President or what his motives were, this act was simply one more in a whole long series of senseless, brutal, stupid, pathological killings." CGB pp.343-44

Merton responds personally with letters to both Jackie and Ethel Kennedy expressing his grief and condolences.

Unfinished Business
The John F. Kennedy Assassination remains one of the great wounds of the American psyche. 45 years later it continues to give rise to powerful emotions and lingering questions. In grief work with individuals and families we often refer to these persisting conditions as "unfinished business". The reality of this unresolved grief and unfinished business is reflected in the ongoing search for truthful answers to the questions of why Kennedy was killed, and by whom. The latest contribution to this work is a book by Catholic peace activist, and Thomas Merton friend, James Douglass.

JFK and the Unspeakable:

In his 2008 book, "JFK and The Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters" James Douglass revisits the Kennedy Presidency in search of his own answers to these unresolved questions. He examines President Kennedy's response to the CIA's "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba, the October 1962 "Cuban Missile Crisis", the Vietnam War, and the Nuclear Arms Race and the resultant relationship with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the corporate leaders in the American Military-Industrial Complex.

Douglass sees a President who is undergoing a significant personal "turning" towards peace on a number of fronts and who has the courage to resist the pressure towards greater military escalation exerted by the military establishment. Kennedy is charting a course towards nuclear disarmament, disengagement in Vietnam, dialogue with Cuba, and peaceful coexistence with Russia. This turning towards peace was enough, in Douglass's view, to mark him for assassination.

Thomas Merton - A Guide and Witness

Thomas Merton figures prominently in Douglass's work. Douglass poses the reader's question... "The reader may wonder why the perspective of a contemplative monk, Thomas Merton, figures so prominently in a book about the JFK assassination. Why is the Trappist monk Thomas Merton my Virgil on this pilgrimage?"

And responds... "Einstein said, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift towards unparalleled catastrophes." Unless we turn our thinking (and acting) away from war, we humans have had our day. Thomas Merton said it again and again at the height of the Cold War, as did Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. What the contemplative Thomas Merton brought to that fundamental truth of our nuclear age was an ontology of nonviolence, a Gandhian vision of reality that can transform the world as we know it. The contemplative knows this transforming truth from experience." JFKU p.xi

Douglas further writes... "Thomas Merton has been my guide through a story of deepening dialogue, assassination, and a hoped-for resurrection. While Kennedy is the subject of this story, Merton is its first witness and chorus from his unique perspective in a monastery in the hills of Kentucky." JFKU p.xi

"The Unspeakable"

The concept of "The Unspeakable" is drawn from Merton's "prologue" to his book "Raids on the Unspeakable". Thomas Merton writes... "The Unspeakable. What is this. Surely, an eschatological image. It is the void we encounter, you and I, underlying the announced programs, the good intentions, the unexampled and universal aspirations for the best of all possible worlds. It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss... One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that it is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core by the presence of the Unspeakable." ROU pp.4-5

James Douglass sees "The Unspeakable" as a kind of "systemic evil" that defies speech. He describes it as "the vacuum of responsibility and compassion" that allows us to deny our complicity in, and to evade our accountability for, the great horrors that are perpetrated in the name of the national interest.


Whew! When I started this pilgrimage with Merton I had no idea of where it would lead. I sure didn't expect to be drawn into ongoing speculation and analysis in relation to the JFK assassination and various conspiracy theories related to it! But there you have it. You can pick up Douglass's book if you want to learn more of his perspective.

What is made clear to me from Douglass's book, from what I've read so far, is that the search for truth and reconciliation in relation to the "unfinished business" of Kennedy's assassination, and many of the traumatic events of the sixties, is far from over...

Remembering and reflecting... Rob

"A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality." John F. Kennedy

JFK Tribute

November 21, 2008

A Life in Letters

November 21, 1968
Merton notes today that he he has written cards to Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, long time friend Sr. Therese Lentfoehr, Kentucky friends John and Rena Niles, and Tom Jerry Smith and letters to Richard Chi and Nyanaponika Thera.

A Life in Letters
I am absolutely astounded at the volume of letters that Thomas Merton wrote and received. I have a very small sample of these letters in "Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters", recently edited by William Shannon and Christine Bochen; "Cold War Letters", a collection of letters written in 1961 and 62; and various excerpts in other Merton books.

The collection of Merton's letters at the Thomas Merton Center includes over 10,000 letters! They reflect his thoughts on a wide range of interests including everything from peace, politics, and the environment to religious life and contemplation. They also reveal the incredible depth of trust and friendship which developed between Merton and many of his correspondents over the years.

William Shannon and Christine Bochen, in their introduction to "Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters" give an overview of the importance of letters in Merton's life. They write... "Merton's one and only way of reaching his friends was, normally through his writing... Although he chose a solitary life (and reveled in it), he loved people and craved human contact. His letters helped to fill that need and, in the process, created and extraordinary record of Merton's life and the development of his thought." TMLL p.viii

Of course it was a two-way street. Shannon and Bochen further note..."Without question Merton enjoyed receiving letters, as he admitted in one he wrote to Sister Therese Lentfoehr on September 25, 1956: "I do not hesitate to confess that letters from my friends have always and will always mean a great deal to me." TMLL p.viii

Merton himself, in his November 1958 letter to Pope John XXIII describes his letter writing as an "apostolate of friendship".

John Jacob Niles

John Niles, Jackie Roberts, Thomas Merton, Janelle Dishman
(click picture for Niles-Merton information)

One of Merton's Kentucky friends, to whom he writes on this day, is noted American folk music historian and balladeer John Jacob Niles. Niles has written music for a collection of Merton's poems which has come to be known as the "Niles-Merton Song Cycle". Merton made a couple of visits to the "Boot Hill Farm" of Niles in 1967 and 1968 to hear some of the songs but wasn't able to hear them all before he left for his Asian journey.

A Lost Art of Relationship
One cannot help but to note with sadness how much we have lost this wonderful art of relationship. The brevity and haste of the e-mail doesn't come close to establishing the depth of connection established in long term written correspondence. It is ironic that we live in a age with more ways of being connected, e-mail, cell phones, blackberries, etc, and yet are more isolated...

Yours very truly... Rob

"Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company." Lord Byron

November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Bobby

November 20, 1925
Robert Francis Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925. He died on June 6, 1968 in one of the pivotal events of this violent and tumultuous year, an event that touched Thomas Merton deeply.

In a letter to Kennedy's wife Ethel, Merton writes... "Really it is hard to say anything that is capable of measuring the shock and sorrow of Bobby's tragic immolation. Nowadays we tend to expect almost anything. But there is something particularly awful and traumatic about this, just because Bobby represented the very real hope for the whole country and for the world. He was the only one with a real chance who might have done something very definite for peace. And now it looks like we will be faced with a completely illusory choice at the polls - so much that I wonder if I'll vote at all. At least for the Presidency." TMLL pp.222-23

Merton - Kennedy Connection
Ethel Skakel Kennedy was the daughter of Anne Skakel, "Big Anne", a generous contributor to Gethsemani and Thomas Merton's secretary for a number of years in the early fifties. Merton maintained a correspondence with both Anne, who died in a plane crash with her husband George in 1955, and Ethel.

Ritual Cycle of Violence
Merton was asked by several magazines to write a piece on the assassination of RFK. He declines, writing in a midsummer letter to friends..."I am a bit suspicious of what seems to me to be a growing ritual cycle: murder, public acts of contrition, deploring violence, gestures of appeasement, then everything goes on unchanged and presently there is another assassination. The cycle continues. The sickness seems to be so deep that ritual expressions of sorrow, horror, astonishment, etc., have just become part of the general routine. At such a time perhaps silence is more decent." TMLL p.223 .

Letter of Lament
In the same letter Thomas goes on to lament the critical state of violence in American society which he sees as a systemic infection rooted in fear, "...more especially in the establishment itself, the military, the police, the established forces of order..."

It is in this 1968 letter of lament that Merton writes this familiar and oft quoted piece... "I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlements of differences, for non-violent but nevertheless radical change. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another..." TMLL p.224

Forgetfulness of God
True to his prophetic call, Merton locates the root of the problem of violence in the "forgetfulness of God and prayer". He reveals much about the direction of his vocation in this crucial pre-pilgrimage period when he writes..."I realize more and more that in my own vocation what matters is not comment, not statements of opinion, not judgements, but prayer. " TMLL p.224

Remembering and reflecting... Rob

"Let us pray for one another and try in everything to do what God asks of us." Thomas Merton

If I Had a Hammer

November 19, 2008

A Man and A Mountain

November 19, 1968
Mim Tea Estate

An interesting facet of Merton's time in Darjeeling is his relationship with Mount Kanchenjunga which takes on the role of a character in his journal. Donald Grayston, who made a pilgrimage to Asia "in the footsteps of Merton" in 2000/2001, shares the following "guest post" on the unique relationship of a man and a mountain...

(Grayston photo)

"Merton on his journey practised what his friend David Steindl-Rast called “exposed consciousness,” spiritual openness to all experience, and developed thereby a deep capacity for integration. A notable example of this is Merton’s “quarrel” with Mount Kanchenjunga, regarded as a goddess by Buddhists (AJTM pp. 146-61). He had a magnificent view of the great mountain from the window of the guest wing of the manager’s bungalow at the Mim Tea Estate, where he made a retreat.

(Grayston photo)

Before his retreat, in Darjeeling, he says that the mountain was “a lovely sight but hard to photograph” (p. 135). He then launches into a conversation between himself and the mountain in which he struggles with how his camera had become an instrument of western technological domination (he wanted a good photograph but the mountain was hidden by clouds, i.e., was not co-operating or submitting). Then he had a dream, in which he “saw” the mountain from “the other side,” the Tibetan side, the side he couldn’t see with his physical eyes (p. 152).

This dream, which brought the two sides of the mountain together, ended his “quarrel.” Man and mountain had revealed their true natures to each other; no separation remained." Donald Grayston

About Kanchenjunga (from Wikipedia)
"Kangchenjunga (कञ्चनजङ्घा) is the third highest mountain in the world (after Everest and K2), with an elevation of 8,586 metres (28,169 ft). Kangchenjunga translated means "The Five Treasures of Snows", as it contains five peaks, four of them over 8,450 metres. The treasures represent the five repositories of god, which are gold, silver, gems, grain, and holy books." Wikipedia

Kangchenjunga 1857 painting

"Kangchenjunga was first climbed on May 25, 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band of a British expedition. The British expedition honoured the beliefs of the Sikkimese, who hold the summit sacred, by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit. Most successful summit parties since then have followed this tradition." Wikipedia

TTFN... Rob

"There is another side of Kanchenjunga and of every mountain - the side that has never been photographed and turned into postcards. That is the only side worth seeing." Thomas Merton AJTM p.153

Sikkim Snow Lion Dance

"The "Singhi Chham" or dance of the snow lion, pays homage to the Kangchenjunga peak in the Himalayas, the guardian diety of the Sikkimese and the five smaller peaks that surround it. Bathed in sunlight on tis flanks, the Kanchenjunga takes on the look of a lion with fiery mane - the snow lion of Sikkimese legend. The dance with its enormous masks brings the mythic figure to life as it enacts the legend around Singhi Chham. It is performed at harvest time, ushering in the new year and is especially associated with the Bhutias of Sikkim." (from youtube introduction)

Rocky Mountain High

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him,
you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door
Now he walks in quiet solitude
the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself
to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

November 18, 2008

Alone on the Mountainside

November 18, 1968

"I'm glad I came here. All morning alone on the mountainside, in the warm sun, now overclouded. Plenty of time to think. Reassessment of this whole Indian thing in more critical terms. Too much movement. Too much "looking for" something: an answer, a vision, "something other". And this breeds illusion. Illusion that there is something else. Differentiation - the old splitting up process that leads to mindlessness, instead of the mindfulness of seeing all-in-emptiness and not having to break it up against itself. Four legs good; two legs bad..."

"...Hence the annoyance with Kanchenjunga, its big crude blush in the sunrise, outside my bungalow window at 5:45. What do I care for a 28,00-foot postcard when I have this bloody cold?"AJTM p.148

Another Day of Discernment

Thomas again takes advantage of a time of silence and solitude to reflect on his pilgrimage and to discern his future.

"I am still not able fully to appreciate what this exposure to Asia has meant. There has been so much - and yet so little... Meeting the Dalai Lama and the various Tibetans, lamas or "enlightened" laymen, has been the most significant thing of all, especially in the way we were able to communicate with one another and share an essentially spiritual experience of "Buddhism" which is also somehow in harmony with Christianity." AJTM p.148

Here or There?
Merton wonders about his future and weighs the options of remaining in the hermitage at Gethsemani, becoming a hermit in India, or doing likewise in Alaska or around "the Redwoods". He indicates that he is not sensing a particular call to Asia, that he does feel it's time to leave Gethsemani, and that things do seem to point towards Alaska or the Redwoods.

Gethsemani is My Monastery

"Another question: would this move be temporary or permanent? I do not think I ought to separate myself completely from Gethsemani, even while maintaining an official residence there, legally only. I suppose I ought eventually to end my days there. I do in many ways miss it. There is no problem of my wanting to simply "leave Gethsemani." It is my monastery and being away has helped me see it in perspective and love it more." AJTM p.149

Have another great day... Rob

"We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”
Thomas Merton

Homeward Bound

November 17, 2008

Mim Tea Estate

November 17, 1968

Thomas starts his day with mass and breakfast at St. Joseph's College in Darjeeling. Later he writes... "On being tired of Kanchenjunga. On the mountain being mercifully hidden by clouds. On sneaking a look at the mountain anyway before mass. I walked the length of St. Joseph's College to sneak a look at the mountain..." AJTM p.146

Kanchenjunga in clouds

The librarian at St. Joseph's is happy to meet Merton and proclaims "We have twenty-two of your books in our library!" A pretty good collection for 1968!

Hah! It is good!

Merton begins a mini-retreat at the Mim Tea Estate on this day. He is suffering from a persistant cold and appreciates a time of slowed pace... "Several times during the long silent ride in the Land Rover to the Mim Tea Estate today I wondered, "Why am I going there?" But I am glad to be here in this utterly quiet bungalow. The owners are out and won't be back until late. I have already refused dinner and asked for tea only, tea to be sent to the bungalow.

Mim Bungalow (Grayston Photo)

A fire is lit in the bungalow grate, and it is good. Hah! It is good. Fog hides the mountains. Fog gets in the soar throat. No matter. Fire and a variety of remedies and a big bed, with covers and fresh sheet turned back, awaits the tired penseur... I escape quickly to the bungalow, aside, apart, alone, silent." AJTM p.147

Peace and blessings... Rob

“Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.”
Thomas Merton

The Smothers Brothers

Live on November 17, 1968

November 17, 2008

Crunch Time for Tibetan Cause
By Penny Spiller BBC News

"As many as 500 exiled Tibetan leaders are meeting in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala this week to discuss the future of their fight for their homeland.

It is a critical time, as they face up to the fact that their decades-long call for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet has pretty much fallen on deaf ears in China.

Last month, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said he was losing hope that his deliberately moderate "middle path" policy with Beijing - seeking autonomy but not full independence - would yield results..." see more

November 16, 2008

Chadral Rinpoche

Vancouver's Merton Community

Vancouver, and the Lower Mainland of BC, is a veritable hotbed of Merton scholars and enthusiasts. We have Susan Cowan, Ron Dart, Donald Grayston, Judith Hardcastle, Ross Labrie, Angus Stuart, and Lynn Szabo to name but a few (actually Judith now lives in Golden but is still glimpsed from time-to-time in Vancouver's West End). Together with others in the Thomas Merton Society of Canada these folks anchor a wonderful community and provide many excellent learning opportunities by way of lectures, conferences and retreats. They have also created the Thomas Merton Reading Room in partnership with the Vancouver School of Theology.

Donald Grayston
On Friday I enjoyed a lengthy lunch at the Sylvia Hotel on English Bay with Donald Grayston, theologian, soulfriend, and pilgrim. Don is the current President of the International Thomas Merton Society and has been a student of Merton's for over 50 years. Don made an Asian pilgrimage "in the footsteps of Merton" in 2000-2001 and has generously agreed to share some of his experiences in this weblog.

Darjeeling - November 16, 1968
On November 16, 1968 Thomas Merton meets Chadral Rinpoche, whom he describes as... "the greatest rimpoche I have met so far and a very impressive person." AJTM p.143

Don Grayston shares these brief thoughts on this stage of Merton's pilgrimage... "Merton's encounter with Chadral (his preferred spelling: the AJTM uses the form “Chatral”) Rinpoche was, in my view, the most significant personal encounter of his Asian pilgrimage (pp. 142-44). Chadral and Merton were both hermits, much of an age, both with a long history of spiritual practice. The Dalai Lama, by contrast, was much younger than Merton, and was clearly the learner in their three encounters.

Merton’s reference to sunyata (emptiness) and karuna (compassion) as a focus of their discussion, as well as Merton’s comment that both he and Chadral were “on the edge of [the] great realization” (p. 143), needs to be read together with Merton’s account of his experience two weeks later in the presence of the great Buddhas of Polonnaruwa (pp. 230-36). In that account, Merton speaks of his having been “jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things” (p. 233), and acknowledges that “everything is emptiness and everything is compassion” (p. 235). These and his other comments point to a transformative moment, in my view the deepest point of Merton’s journey. He had experienced the Great Realization."

For more infomation on Don and his interests visit his website at http://www.donaldgrayston.ca/ , and for his pilgrimage thoughts and experiences http://www.donaldgrayston.ca/pilgrim.html .

TTFN... Rob

"A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, in the expectation of transformation." Donald Grayston

All You Need is Love

November 15, 2008

Space Races

November 1968 - USSR
On November 10, 1968, the Soviets successfully launched the unmanned Zond 6, which carried a biological payload around the moon and photographed the lunar surface.

November 1968 - USA

In November 1968 the Amercans were in the final prepartaion and training stages for the Apollo 8 "Manned Moon Orbit" mission. Apollo 8 was launced on December 21, 1968 and entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve.

November 2008
India sends probe on to the Moon

"The lunar surface viewed by the Moon Impact Probe on its descent India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft, Chandrayaan 1, has sent a probe on to the surface of the Moon. The probe, painted with the Indian flag, crashed into the Moon's surface at 2034 (1504 GMT), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said. During its controlled plunge, it took readings including measurements of the composition of the Moon's atmosphere. The mission is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia..." BBC .

Deep peace of the night stars to you... Rob
Be humble for you are made of earth.
Be noble for you are made of stars.
Serbian proverb

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.”

Let it Be - 1970

November 13, 2008

"B" is for Bomb

Original Child Bomb

Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave.

1. In the year 1945 an Original Child was born. The name Original Child was given to it by the Japanese people, who recognized that it was the first of its kind.

2. On April 12th, 1945, Mr. Harry Truman became the President of the United States, which was then fighting the second world war... About one hour after Mr. Truman became president, his aides told him about a new bomb that was being developed by atomic scientists. They called it the "atomic bomb"... Thomas Merton IDBD p.111

"B" is for Bomb

Thomas Merton and The Bomb

A Contemporary of Hiroshima
"That I should have been born in 1915, that I should be the contemporary of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and the Watts riots, are things about which I was not first consulted. Yet they are also events in which, whether I like it or not, I am deeply and personally involved." CWA p.161

Thomas Merton lived and wrote against the backdrop of nuclear proliferation, atmospheric and underground testing, and the very real and imminent possibility of global thermonuclear war. One only has to revisit the events of the sixties to be reminded of how real the threat of nuclear war was at that time. It's not possible to reflect on Merton's "Passion for Peace" without having at least a little glance from the nuclear perspective.

Nuclear Testing

"Up to now (August 1962) there have been 106 nuclear tests since testing began again (almost a year). Thirty-one of these by the USSR, seventy-four by the USA, and one by Britain, in the USA (Nevada). The USA has made twenty-nine atmospheric tests, twenty-six in the South Pacific and three in Nevada. The USA has also made forty-four underground tests and one in the stratosphere. Total of all nuclear tests since the beginning: USA 229, USSR 86, UK 22, France 5. Grand total: 342 nuclear tests, of which 282 were in the atmosphere...Nice going boys!" CGB p.251

Baby Boomers and the Bomb
Our "boomer generation" has lived with the possibility of nuclear war all of our lives. Our childhood was filled with images and sounds of impending atomic doom, our youth with sounds and images of resistance and protest.


"The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" has used the "Doomsday Clock" as an illustration of how close we are to "catastrophic destruction" since 1947. In 1968 the clock was set at 7 minutes to midnight, in 1991 it was set at 17 minutes to midnight, in 2007 it was set at 5 minutes to midnight. The clock was set at 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. developed and tested the hydrogen bomb and 3 minutes to midnight in 1984, one of the "chilliest" points of the "cold war".

The "tick-ticking" of the "doomsday clock" is just another component of the background noise of everyday life, just like muzak, traffic, and TV ads. Sometimes we've heeded its alarm, awakened, and taken action. But, mostly we've just slept through it.

Current Concerns
2008 concerns include nuclear weapons in the hands of "rogue states" or terrorists; the destabilizing development and deployment of missile defence systems; and the slow pace of reducing existing stockpiles. A review of the news today will include stories about the testing of a new missile in Iran (capable of striking Israel), advice from a general to an incoming president on continuing a missile defence program, and plans by Russia to deploy missiles in Kalingrad, "a forward area close to Western Europe".

Peace... Rob

"The only sane course that remains is to work frankly and without compromise for the total abolition of war."

Thomas Merton 1962