Forty four years ago today Thomas Merton took a shower, touched a faulty wired stand-up fan, was electrocuted, and died in a cottage of a conference center in suburban Bangkok Thailand at a conference on Interreligious Monasticism.
He was immersing himself at this point of his life with Zen.
In keeping with Merton's idea that non-Christian faiths had much to offer Christianity in terms of experience and perspective and little or nothing in terms of doctrine, Merton distinguished between Zen Buddhism, an expression of history and culture, and Zen. What Merton meant by Zen Buddhism was the religion that began in China and spread to Japan as well as the rituals and institutions that accompanied it. By Zen, Merton meant something not bound by culture, religion or belief. In this capacity, Merton was influenced by the book Zen Catholicism. With this idea in mind, Merton's later writings about Zen may be understood to be coming more and more from within an evolving and broadening tradition of Zen which is not particularly Buddhist but informed by Merton's monastic training within the Christian tradition.
He would have liked the article and 'Jules' response to it in Truthout:
On the other hand, sociopathy/psychopathy is a character disorder which is simply an intentional choice of how someone lives and interacts with others. People with sociopathy/psychopathy create an alternate reality by willfully manipulating others and their environment. Their tactics and behaviors are at the pathological level, and yet are being normalized every day by media and media personalities: projection, denial, distortion, splitting (black-and-white thinking), magical thinking.
Sociopaths, through a lifetime of conditioning by their family and the larger social structure, learn to see other people not as human beings who have a right to self-determination, but only as objects to moved around like pieces on a chessboard. They see things like empathy and justice and reason as something that only "saps" waste their time on. All their time is spent gaining control - on anything and everything that they value - which is always something material: wealth, fame, and power over others.
We are experiencing such a rapid decline in character in America that we as a nation are bordering on the pathological - and yet it is barely being noticed by anyone. The APA (American Psychological Association), which is "in charge" of developing diagnostics and treatment for mental illness, is too busy colluding with BigPharma on inventing diseases that can be treated by newly invented drugs. Studies that show our rapidly declining mental health (9% of all American teenagers can be classified as having Narcissistic personality disorder, as opposed to 3% of people in their 60's or 6% of people in their 40's, conducted by NIMH) have been all but swept under the rug.
No society can function for long at a pathological level, it will eventually break down. And yet that is where we are right now. And no one is talking about it, especially not in a way where it can be tackled as an issue.
(--From response by 'Jules,' to article, Schizophrenics, Psychopaths Holding America Hostage, Wednesday, 05 December 2012 00:00, By Dr Brian Moench, Truthout | Op-Ed
Merton was annoying like that -- he found what was deleterious to human harmony and spiritual integrity, and wrote about it. His superiors in the organizational church wished a vow of silence would gag him -- but he was a poet -- and poets speak through silence with words that carry the depths of silence with them.
“Be good, keep your feet dry,
your eyes open, your heart at peace
and your soul in the joy of Christ.”
As much as bombs and drones and assassinations of 'enemies' do -- so, too, the deceptions, manipulation of truth, false claims, and blatant lies rife today -- all mangle and tear apart the heart of human goodness creating fear, greed, dominance, and insidious mistrust between us.
Joy is an endangered way of being.
Don't buy their smearing and sneering demands to cross over to discrimination and exclusionary behavior, those purveyors of political penury and posturing patronizing pissant pedantry!
That being said, here are words about Merton's death from a Rob Pollack blog:
International Thomas Merton Society President Donald Grayston provides the following reflection on Merton's death...
Merton dies at Suwanganiwas, the Red Cross Centre at Samut Prakan, 30 km outside Bangkok, accidentally electrocuted. It is 27 years to the day since he entered Gethsemani, and a mere eight days after his deep experience at Polonnaruwa.
His Christian identity was expressed and symbolized for us by the fact that he said mass in Bangkok on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic calendar, two days before his death. I mention this because some commentators have said that towards the end of his life he abandoned Christian faith and became a Buddhist. On the contrary, he opened himself fully to Buddhist experience and understanding, which he much valued, as a fully-formed Catholic Christian.
Death of the Master
Both east and west share four kinds of death—natural causes, accident, murder, suicide. But in the east there is a fifth category, the death of the master. This involves the master gathering his disciples around him, giving them his last words, doing or saying something absurd, and then dying.
So I Will Disappear
The example of this with which we are most familiar is that of Jesus at the last supper, the “absurd” element being his strange words about the bread and wine of the meal being his body and blood. At the conference Merton was attending, all the Catholic participants had read Merton’s books, and were eagerly awaiting his words (pp. 326-43), at the end of which he said “So I will disappear”—this much in the AJTM (p. 343), and followed this with a classically Mertonian comment—“and we can all get a Coke or something” (not included in the AJTM, but clearly audible in the film of his talk).
The Great Compassion
The other monks and nuns who held a vigil after his death said that “In death Father Louis’ [his monastic name] face was set in a great and deep peace ….” (p. 346). He had fulfilled the intention with which he set out on his Asian pilgrimage. He had settled the Great Affair, and had found also the Great Compassion, mahakaruna (see p. 4).
A Merton quote ends the post:
"Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life." (--Thomas Merton)
The rest of the quote, found in The Seven Story Mountain (p.107) says: "And, with those eyes, those interior eyes, open upon that coldness, I lay half asleep and look at that visitor, death."
He was 17, ill with gangrene in a hospital, he recounts his apathy, not caring if death took him.
Many years later, in the final chapter and penultimate page of his autobiography, he recounts a different viewpoint:
I do not make a big drama of this business. I do not say: "you have asked me for everything, and I have renounced all." Because I no longer desire to see anything that implies a distance between You and me: and if I stand back and consider myself and You as if something had passed between us, from me to you, I will inevitably see the gap between us and remember the distance between us.
My God, it is that gap and that distance which kill me.
That is the only reason why I desire solitude -- to be lost to all created things, to die to them and to the knowledge of them, for they remind me of my distance from You. They tell me something about You: that You are far from them, even though You are in them. You have made them and Your presence sustains their being, and they hide You from me. And I would live alone, and out of them. "O beata solitudo!"
For I knew that it was only by leaving them that I could come to You: and that is why I have been so unhappy when You seemed to be condemning me to remain in them. Now my sorrow is over, and my joy is about to begin: the joy that rejoices in the deepest sorrows. For I am beginning to understand. You have taught me, and have consoled me, and I have begun to hope and learn.
(p.461, The Seven Story Mountain, by Thomas Merton, http://books.google.com/books?id=ncX7XkyIqP0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false)
You are alone; with-God!
(Oh, and Robert Lowell!)