I am often amazed at the “connections” that Merton made during his life. Merton’s friendships outside of the monastery were deep and varied - artists, writers, theologians, singers and a few of the local nobodies. It’s as if there is wavelength of thought (or vision) that coalesces around Merton, and sometimes I wonder if we are not still being carried along by this vision (or spell). A happening that the daily news totally misses.
As I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I was fascinated with Jobs’ serious and diligent practice of Buddhism. One of the books that inspired Jobs to become interested in the process of letting go of illusion was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Hmmm. Didn’t Merton meet that guy in India?
Even before he even left for Asia, Merton was reading Chögyam Trungpa’s Born in Tibet. Chögyam Trungpa must have been 29 years old in 1968. And then, “quite by chance”, Merton meets Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Calcutta. This is what he writes in his journal on October 20, 1968:
“Yesterday, quite by chance, I met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his secretary, a nice young Englishman whose Tibetan name is Kunga. Today I had lunch with them and talked about going to Bhutan. But the important thing is that we are people who have been waiting to meet for a long time. Chogyam Trungpa is a completely marvelous person. Young, natural, without front or artifice, deep, awake, wise. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of each other, whether around northern India and Sikkim or in Scotland, where I am now determined to go to see his Tibetan monastery if I can. Hi is a promising poet. His stuff in Tibetan is probably excellent; in English it is a little flat, but full of substance. He is also a genuine spiritual master. His place in Scotland seems to have become an instant success and I think he has something very good underway. I am certainly interested in it. The newsletter he puts out is good. His own meditations and talks, from what I have seen, are extraordinary. He has the same problems we have with “progressive” monks whose idea of modernization is to go noncontemplative, to be “productive” and academic. …"
Merton ran into Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche twice more during his journey in Asia. Of course, this was all before Chögyam Trungpa came to America (1970) and gained renown for his unique ability to present the essence of the highest Buddhist teachings in a form readily understandable to western students. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche later began to express the path of meditation in secular terms, increasingly turning his attention to the propagation of teachings that extended beyond the Buddhist canon.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche sought to bring, in his words, "art to everyday life."