From The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton...
Thinking about my own life and future, it is still a very open
question. I am beginning to appreciate the hermitage at Gethsemani
more than I did last summer when things seemed so noisy and crowded.
Even here in the mountains there are few places where one does
not run into someone. Roads and paths and trails are all full
of people. To have real solitude one would have to get very high
up and far back!
For solitude, Alaska really seems, the very best place. But everyone
I have talked to says I must also consider others and keep open
to them to some extent. The rimpoches all advise against absolute
solitude and stress "compassion." They seem to agree
that being in solitude much of the year and coming "out"
for a while would be a good solution.
The idea of being in Alaska and then going out to Japan or the
U. S. strikes me as a rather good solution. And, in some small
way, helping in Alaska itself. On the way back from this trip
I think I will need to go to Europe to see Trungpa Rimpoche's
place in Scotland and the Tibetan monastery in Switzerland. Also
to see Marco Pallis and then John Driver in Wales. I must write
to "Donald" Allchin about Wales.
The way in which I have been suddenly brought here constantly
surprises me. The few days so far in Dharamsala have all been
extremely fruitful in every way: the beauty and quiet of the mountains,
my own reading and meditation, encounters with lamas, everything.
In away it is wonderful to be without letters. No one now knows
where to reach me. Undoubtedly there is some mail accumulating
for me at the USIS office in Calcutta. But it will be ten days
or more before I see any of it. And Brother Patrick is sending
on only what is most essential.
Trying to get a better perspective on the earlier part of this
year, there is a lot I cannot quite understand. And perhaps do
not need to understand. The last months have been demanding and
fruitful. I have needed the experience of this journey. Much as
the hermitage has meant, I have been needing to get away from
Gethsemani and it was long overdue.
This evening the lights in the cottage went dead for a while.
I stood out in the moonlight, listening to drums down in the village
and looking up at the stars. The same constellations as over the
hermitage and the porch opening in about the same direction, southeast
toward Aquila and the Dolphin. Aquarius out over the plain, the
Swan up above. Cassiopeia over the mountains...
The metaphysician as wounded man. A wounded man is not an agnostic
˜ he just has different questions, arising out of his wound.
Recognition of the wound as a substitute for real identity, when
one can "think of nothing else."
Buddha rejected the dogmatism of idealism and materialism and
substituted a critical dialectic, "long before anything
approximating to it was formulated in the West." "Criticism
is deliverance of the human mind from all entanglements and passions.
It is freedom itself. This is the true Madhyamika standpoint."
Note that Buddha neither said "there is a self" or "there
is not a self." But among many Buddhists there appears to
be a kind of dogmatism that says "there is not a self"
instead of taking the true middle. Also Buddha replied by silence
because he considered the condition of the questioner and the
effect of a dogmatic reply on him. Buddha did not say "there
is no self" to prevent the bewilderment of Vacchagotta. "For
he would have said: 'Formerly indeed I had a self but now I have
not one any more.' "
It was Buddha's aim not to give a "final" speculative
answer but to be free from all theories and to know, by experience,
"the nature of form and how form arises and how form perishes."
He wanted "not a third position lying between two extremes
but a no-position that supersedes them both." This is the
November 7 The contemplative life must provide
an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities
are allowed to surface and new choices ˜ beyond routine choice
˜ become manifest. It should create a new experience of time,
not as stopgap, stillness, but as "temps vierge" ˜
not a blank to be filled or an untouched space to be conquered
and violated, but a space which can enjoy its own potentialities
and hopes ˜ and its own presence to itself. One's own
time. But not dominated by one's own ego and its demands.
Hence open to others ˜ compassionate time, rooted in the
sense of common illusion and in criticism of it.
Merton died of accidental electrocution in Thailand on December
10, 1968. April 8 is the Buddha's birthday.