Some insight on prayer from author and professor Susan Stabile, and I can’t help but think some of her ideas here would not be unfamiliar to Thomas Merton:
Becoming a Tibetan Buddhist nun is not a typical life choice for a child of an Italian Catholic police officer from Brooklyn, New York. Nevertheless, in February of 1988 I knelt in front of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, as he cut a few locks of my hair (the rest had already been shaved), symbolizing my renunciation of lay life.
I lived in the vows of a Buddhist nun for a year, in the course of spending two years living in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India. Including my years of lay practice, I spent twenty years of my adult life practicing Buddhism, before returning to the Catholicism into which I had been born and baptized.
During my years as a Buddhist, I was exposed to many ways of meditating. They were all new to me, as my prayer as a young Catholic was largely limited to recitation of rote prayers and did not include any sort of contemplative practice.
Following my return to Catholicism, images and ideas from my Buddhist experiences arose spontaneously in my prayer. During one early retreat, I recorded in my journal an experience of sitting under a tree “imagining Thousand-Armed Chenrezig [the Buddha of Compassion] with enough hands to help in all directions.” I saw Chenrezig as “one way of imaging Christ — in all places, with hands to help wherever necessary.”
That experience and others like it sparked in me an interest in exploring how prayer forms from one religious tradition might be adapted for use in other traditions. Over the years, I have found that much of what I learned about and experienced of Buddhist meditation during those years enriches my prayer life as a Christian. Many of the “analytical” meditations, which I learned when I lived in Tibetan Buddhist communities in Nepal and India and continued to practice after my return to the United States, have particularly enhanced my religious experiences.
Read it all, including the important reflection on some of this by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.