Friday, September 16, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Action and Acceptance

In his study of Eastern religious and wisdom traditions, a study cut short by his untimely death, the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, delved deeply into the heart of those traditions, finding the common ground that each shares with his own Christian faith  Not surprisingly, in his reflections on Hinduism (taken from his pithy book, "Thoughts On the East") he identifies the relentless pursuit of one's own self-will as the primary obstacle to spiritual growth and lasting happiness.

"The hazard of the spiritual quest is of course that its genuineness cannot be left to our own isolated subjective judgment alone," Merton points out. "We do not simply create our own lives on our own terms. Any attempt to do so is ultimately an affirmation of our individual self as ultimate and supreme. This is a self-idolatry which is diametrically opposed to Krishna consciousness or to any other authentic form of religious or metaphysical consciousness."

"The Gita," he notes, "sees that the basic problem of man is his endemic refusal to live by a will other than his own. For in striving to live entirely by his own individual will, instead of becoming free, man is enslaved by forces even more exterior and more delusory than his own transient fancies. He projects himself out of the present into the future. He tries to make for himself a future that accords with his own fantasy, and thereby escape from a present reality which he does not fully accept. And yet, when he moves into the future he wanted to create for himself, it becomes a present that is once again repugnant to him. And yet this is what he had "made" for himself - it is his karma."

"In accepting the present in all its reality as something to be dealt with precisely as it is," Merton writes, "man comes to grips at once with his karma and with a providential will which, ultimately, is more his own than what he currently experiences on a superficial level, as "his own will.""

"It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in itself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao."

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An anonymous writer made the following observations about the challenges and hazards we create in refusing to accept life on life terms, and about the spiritual benefits that come to us when we do:
"(A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. . . . (U)nless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes."

"Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women mere players." He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, be ause I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. . . . (A)cceptance (has) taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about your, I am complaining about God's handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God."

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