Friday, December 8, 2006

pollonnaruwa


Reclining Buddha, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, 1968

Photo by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was not a mystic. And though certainly prophetic, he was not a visionary. In his spiritual direction, he cautions against seeking any sort of supernatural experience, or relying too much on religious consolation. His attention was on this world, this life.

However there are two experiences, or insights, that Merton writes about that were especially strong for him: the insight on the corner of Fourth and Walnut (Louisville), and his experience at Pollonaruwa, just a few days before his death on December 10, 1968.

Merton visited Pollonaruwa on Monday, December 1st. Somewhat worried that he had spoiled it by trying to speak of it to acquaintances, he does not write about the experience, in great descriptive detail, until 4 days later (December 4th – pp. 322-324 “The Other Side of the Mountain”).

The place is remote, quiet, uncrowded:

“I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything – without refutation – without establishing some other argument …

“Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. … The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no “mystery”. All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life is charged with dharmakaya – everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. ….


I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguises. This is Asia in its purity, not covered over with garbage, Asian or European or American, and it is clear, pure, complete. It says everything; it needs nothing. And because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we, Asians included, who need to discover it.”

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate this:

    I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguises. This is Asia in its purity, not covered over with garbage, Asian or European or American, and it is clear, pure, complete. It says everything; it needs nothing. And because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we, Asians included, who need to discover it.”

    I've mourned Merton's death ever since i got word of it because I noted the Church-without-him as desolate. But I cannot allow myself that selfish sentiment any longer. I can be "Asia" as the Church must become "Asia" for its own authenticity. I was laying the burden only on him - and a very few others.

    Thanks.

    Sebastian

    ReplyDelete

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