Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Two Monks Planting Seeds of Hope for a Better World

Last month Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, wrote an op ed piece for The New York Times making a case for the possibility of harmony among religions ("Many Faiths, One Truth," May 24, 2010). While acknowledging the fact that intolerance and exclusivity are hallmarks of religion, he argues that one can stay true to one’s own faith tradition and still have respect and admiration for other faith traditions. Indeed, the Dalai Lama argues that with the world and its different cultures becoming more and more interconnected, finding a way for peaceful coexistence is all the more imperative (see the full op ed piece by clicking here).

I was particularly heartened to see the Dalai Lama give credit to Thomas Merton for his own enlightenment regarding other faiths:

“An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions. A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism.”

Thomas Merton had looked forward to that meeting with the Dalai Lama with anticipation during his trip through Asia. His trip took him through India, Ceylon, and culminated in Bangkok, Thailand where he addressed a gathering of Asian monastic leaders before his unfortunate death. Merton kept a journal of his travels and encounters along the way which was published posthumously as, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton.

The famous Trappist monk had three meetings with the Dalai Lama while he was in India. Merton was impressed with the depths of the Tibetan leader's intellect as well as his spirituality. The two monks discussed with one another their own traditions, each one having important questions for the other regarding faith and practice.

After the final visit with the Dalai Lama, Merton wrote: “It was a very warm and cordial discussion and at the end I felt we had become very good friends and were somehow quite close to one another. I feel a great respect and fondness for him as a person and believe, too, that there is a real spiritual bond between us. He remarked that I was a “Catholic geshe,” which, Harold said, was the highest possible praise from a Geluga, like an honorary doctorate!” (The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, p. 125)

May we look to the example of these two monks, one Christian, one Tibetan Buddhist, who have sought to bridge the gap between East and West; both of them standing for authenticity of living in a world marked by struggle, division, love, and beauty.

[The photograph above is from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, p. 101]


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