Buddhism: bodhisattva Thomas Merton

“The heresy of individualism: thinking oneself a completely self-sufficient unit and asserting this imaginary ‘unity’ against all others. The affirmation of the self as simply ‘not the other.’ But when you seek to affirm your unity by denying that you have anything to do with anyone else, by negating everyone else in the universe until you come down to you: what is there left to affirm? Even if there were something to affirm, you would have no breath left with which to affirm it.

The true way is just the opposite: the more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes’ to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone. “

From Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, selected with an Introduction by Christine M. Bochen
(Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books 2000), Page 142.

Originally published in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton
(New York: Doubleday, 1966) Pages 128-29.

The heresy of individualism is perhaps the heresy of our times. Will the violence and hardship it necessarily causes be its own demise? It seems so painfully obvious, as we wage a war in Iraq and export our jobs to China, that we are not any unity of self-sufficiency in this world. We are a product of it all, both historically through primarily Western culture (and its imperialism) and globally in this moment (food many of us will eat next week is no doubt being harvested & packaged in several 3rd world countries right now). Merton wrote this forty years ago, but it is still so true today. So too with his solution, a wonderful dose of simple, timeless wisdom.

I first stumbled across Thomas Merton last year in Bristol, finding his “Asian Journals” in the Centre for Buddhist Studies library. I have two blog posts from then (Butterfly, and Artists-Art-Life) and remember a great sense of enthusiasm and inspiration from reading this holy man’s private thoughts. He seemed forever warm and kind, never sharp or judgmental, always inquisitive and yet confident and sturdy.

I lost touch with him when I left England, too busy, but I hope to come back to him soon and perhaps even (back) to Catholicism through him (in some strange way).


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