Sunday, February 25, 2007

lax on wisdom, part one

sometimes, i have conversations with an imaginary guru, naturally one who lives inside me. he used to be a psychiatrist: at least in the old days a lot of my conversations were started with, & a lot of problems heard out or resolved by, an imaginary viennese who listened carefully, often accusingly, & showed me with a few apt technical phrases how far i had erred in my thinking, or behavior. the viennese fellow has disappeared; comes back if ever for very short visits; but has been replaced by chuang tzu (sometimes merton, or sometimes chuang tzu in merton translation) who tells me other wisdoms: usually the wisdoms of abstinence & avoidance; of retreat, prayer & preparation, of non-attachment, of “sitting quietly doing nothing,” of seeking smallness, not greatness, or of seeking nothing at all.

as i don’t think i really understood the “psychiatrist” half of the time, i’m not sure i really understand “chuang tzu.” i respect him though, don’t resent him, as i often did the psychiatrist; feel that he knows i don’t know but that little by little there’ll be things i can learn. i picture him with shaved head, a listener (& yet practical man), a listener who appreciates, a listener with humor; a storehouse – but very light storehouse – of wisdom; made like modern electronic ears of light, light materials, but of great receiving strength.

what he promotes is wisdom, what he promises is grace. zen wisdom, perhaps; zen grace, but certainly wisdom & grace.

one feels that all philosophies, zen & yoga are ways of approaching wisdom & “enlightenment” – they are ways of approaching an enlightened state in which one’s behavior is always or almost always “spontaneously” right.

to be “enlightened” is not to shine; nor to bring multitudes to the hill where one sits cross-legged, to listen.

it is rather to know what one is doing (& even, perhaps, to enjoy it).


- Robert Lax, July 22, 1969, from the “A Greek Journal” published in the book “Love Had A Compass”, pp. 208-209

[See: lax on wisdom, part two (under water) and lax on wisdom, part three (survival) ]

10 comments:

  1. Beth, Now another book I need to buy...can't find a used copy at Powells either! Lax has always intrigued me of all Mertons friends. By the way, I can't find a Hidden Wholeness listed under Griffins name at Powells...I wonder if it's long out of print?

    John

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  2. Try looking for A Hidden Wholeness under Merton's name. Even tho it was Griffin's camera, and Griffin put the book together, the photographs are MErton's. I ordered a used copy from Amazon - it should arrive any day now!

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  3. Beth, thanks, I found it and added it to my Powells list. I received my copy of "The contemplative heart" I thought I had read it before but I was wrong...looking forward to it..after I work my way through Tolstoy's "The kingdom of God is within you". With Griffin developing alot of Merton's photographs I'm surprised that his estate wouldn't release a book of the photos, unless they turned them over to the Merton Center.

    John

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  4. you'll love "The COntemplative Heart". Finley has a wonderful way of conveying mystery in a way that you can recognize it in yourself!

    I'm looking forward to my "Hidden Wholeness" too. I first read Griffin when I was in 5th grade and I read his "Black Like Me". I never forgot him or that book. Later, when I found out he was a photographer (and mostly blind!), as well as a friend of Merton's, I became even more intrigued with him. Somewhere (?) I read some things that Griffin said about "seeing" that are very profound. Maybe I will find them again.

    I have another book of Griffin's photography, mostly portraits. I think that is where the photo of Merton with the camera came from - the one at the top of this blog.

    ps. I've been working my way through Tolstoy's "The Kingdom of God is within you" for a long time. It's a bit slow ...

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  5. Beth, I liked Griffins "The Hermitage Journals" and "Follow the Ecstasy" and I can tell I'm going to like "The contemplative Heart" also! I usually have 2 or 3 books going at the same time, I'm trying to finish Tolstoy (which isn't as bad as I had feared) and a book by Huston Smith "The forgotten Truth" (he's another author I have great respect for)and I have just a few pages left of one by Bede Griffiths. Next month I'm going to spend 3 days at Mt. Saviour Monastery just a short drive from me and I can use the Finley book for that retreat. I'm looking forward to the book on Merton and Taoism which is due out soon too!
    So many books, so little time!

    John

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  6. Have a good retreat, John!

    You know, in the summer of 1972 I attended a series of seminars in Lugano, Switzerland. Huston Smith was there with his wife and daughter, and led one of the courses. There were quite a bizarre group of people there - Timothy Leary, who was in exile at the time, even stopped by. I guess Huston Smith was relatively young then (I was just 22 years old), but he seemed like an elder wise man.

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  7. Beth, He's one of the few sane voices out there. That must have been quite a scene with Leary there, Huston brought him to speak at MIT when he was teaching there which caused abit of a stir. You can find some interviews with Huston on line, a very interesting man. On another note...do you know if Merton's poem "Original Child Bomb" is on-line somewhere?

    Thanks for your time!
    John

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  8. Yes, I have it over on my other blog: http://quotesandmusings.blogspot.com

    I put it up in several parts last August, around the feast of the transfiguration. Let me look for it and I will email a link to you.

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  9. Beth, Thanks for the links to the "Child Bomb" poem! I was mulling over your comment that you were also reading the Tolstoy book. I'm always surprised, tho I know I shouldn't be, that many of the Merton fans that I've met on-line the last few years have similar themes running through their lives...same books, same interests, etc. One of the things which first attracted me to Merton and later Bede Griffiths was their interests in books, poetery, nature, solitude, eastern religions...things which also interested me from an early age. Sometimes I get forgetful and think I'm alone in this crazy journey (or "cosmic dance")I've been on these last few years and then something happens to remind me that we may be doing the dance our own way but it's a pretty big dance hall, we are far from alone, and the dancers and the dance have been going on for a long time! Thanks for letting me listen to your music!

    John

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  10. Thank you for joining me, John!

    Yes, there are lots of us, each in our own way, and all of us together, moving toward something - or, DANCING, as you say.

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