Last week on the Bill O'Reilly show, Brit Hume advised Tiger Woods that he should turn from Buddhism to Christianity.
The truth is that the best Christians are also Buddhists, such as Thomas Merton, Trappist monk poet, social critic and mystic, who said: "I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can." [Steindl-Rast, 1969, "Recollection of Thomas Merton's Last Days in the West"]
The pre-Christian Merton was attracted to the mysticism of Aldous Huxley in the book, "Ends and Means," which sowed the seeds of apophatic mysticism-meaning a knowledge of God obtained by negation-that sprouted into a relationship with Buddhist teachings about the Void and Emptiness. Merton also devoured Christian mystical writings by Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross.
Merton understood that other religions and denominations all led
down the same road and he grew deeper in his own faith through studying and
respecting Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Zen.
The sorry state of US Christianity today is its lack of depth and a rigid fundamentalism [meaning one who has closed off to new thought] that see non-Christians as targets for conversion.
Merton understood that Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam all shared his belief that we all are searching for the ultimate truth.
Merton's openness and commitment to Eastern religions were best expressed in the last words of his life, at the lecture he delivered at a Conference of Benedictine and Cistercian Abbots, on December 10, 1968, at Samutprakan, just south of Bangkok.
Merton spoke on Marxism and Monastic Perspectives and concluded with, "What is essential in the monastic life is not embedded in buildings, is not embedded even in a rule...It is concerned with the business of total inner transformation...all other things serve that end.
"I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own traditions, because they (the Asians) have gone, from the natural point of view, so much deeper into this than we have. The combination of the natural techniques and the graces and the other things that have been manifested in Asia, and the Christian liberty of the gospel should bring us all at last to that full and transcendent liberty which is beyond mere cultural difference and mere externals -- and mere this and that."
After his talk, Merton said he would take questions later on and, "so I will disappear."
A few hours later he was found dead on the floor of his hotel room with a tall electric fan lying across his 53 year old body.
"There has been a lot of gossip about this, whether he was killed accidentally, or by an enemy. He had many enemies; the CIA feared he had connections in religious circles in Asia that might have an adverse effect on the U.S. war effort in Vietnam; the FBI felt the same kind of fear over his role in the peace movement in America; neither side in Vietnam liked him; the Communists, both Russian and Chinese, were suspicious of him.
"He had enemies who simply objected to his beliefs. He still has this type of enemy in the United States"And of course, there were enemies, some of them powerful, within his own Church, even with his own Order. And the latter probably felt even more justified in their opposition during Merton's Asian trip.
"It could have been assassination by some unrevealed force, or it could have been what it was said to have been, just an accident"I suppose it's something we will never know. There was no autopsy. The man who hated the war in Vietnam was shipped quickly back to the United States, via Vietnam, along with casualties of the war, in a U. S. Air Force plane."
In January 1962, Merton wrote against the Bomb: "I have little confidence in Kennedy, I think he cannot fully measure up to the magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and the deeper kind of sensitivity that is needed. Too much the Time and Life mentality, than which I can imagine nothing further, in reality, from, say, Lincoln. What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don't have; depth, humanity and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for man as a whole; a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that some day by miracle. But, such people are before long marked out for assassination."
It was Merton's faith filled compassion for people in distress that inspired his prolific writings on the social issues of civil rights, nuclear weapons, war and peace, and the Viet Nam War, and his religious superiors tried to silence him because of his literary protests.
Gandhi also inspired and influenced Merton in the way to find deeper roots of one's own religious tradition by immersion in other faiths-and then returning "home" to one's own heritage with a transformed consciousness.
2,000 years ago, a nonviolent Palestinian Jew, named Jesus taught his followers that they must be "born again" to enter the kingdom of God.
Reverend Richard Cross explained to me that, "Being "born again' means more than just being baptized. It implies, at least for me, a metanoia (μετανοια -aturning around) of heart and commitment to live the values we find in the Gospel. The implications of this "conversion' are unending."[ http://www.users.cloud9.net/~recross/why-not/ ]
For me being "born again' also implies a transformation of heart and mind to see The Divine is all people and circumstances.
The night before his death Merton said, "Zen and Christianity are the future."
Merton comprehended that if Western Christianity continued to ignore "the spiritual heritage of the East," it would "hasten the tragedy that threatens man and his civilizations" (Mystics and Zen Masters, p. 46).
and hope were Merton's motivations for his immersion into Buddhism and
meaningful interfaith dialogue.
Merton wanted to be a good Buddhist because he learned from that faith path how to be a better Christian.
wrote that studying other faiths is not enough, but that "We must seek not
merely to make superficial reports about the Asian traditions, but to live and
share those traditions, as far as we can, by living them in their traditional
milieu" (Asian Journal, p. 313).
integrated Buddhism with the Christian contemplative concept that the true self
is where God is and "all is emptiness and all is compassion."
See! See! My love is darkness!
Only in the Void,
Are all ways one:
Only in the night
Are all the lost
In my ending is my meaning.-The Night of Destiny
For Merton, "the anguish of the modern person was often based upon an addiction to a false self, one's ego-mind, that only a realization of the no-self (Buddhism) or dying to one's self (Christianity) could transform. Thus, the dialogue was not to be only an intellectual exercise, but a vital and compelling way to directly address the absence of freedom, compassion and meaning in contemporary living and society. And only people authentically free could really value and beneficially contribute to the dialogue since the purpose of it was to free people from the wheel of causation and suffering."
The Sorry State of US Christianity:
St. Paul, who never failed to express his freedom of speech, warned the followers of Jesus, to not judge the unbeliever but to provoke the believer onto good works.
As a Christian Anarchist [meaning one who takes Jesus seriously but questions all authority] and Buddhist, I am compelled to remind American Christians that the gospel-which means good news- that Jesus preached to the poor and oppressed was also a direct challenge to the politically powerful and the arrogant, self-satisfied, self-righteous teachers of the law.
Not many US Christians even know that Jesus
was never a Christian, but was a social justice, radical revolutionary
Palestinian devout Jewish road warrior who rose up and challenged the job
security of the Temple authorities by teaching the people they did NOT need to
pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God;
for God already LOVED them just as they were: sinners, poor, diseased,
outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman
Even fewer US Christians comprehend that what got Jesus crucified was because he disturbed the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces by teaching subversive concepts such as Caesar only had power because God allowed it and that God preferred the humble sinner, the poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Roman Occupation above the elite and arrogant!
Two thousand years ago the Cross had NO symbolic religious meaning and was not a piece of jewelry. When Jesus said: "Pick up your cross and follow me," everyone back then understood he was issuing a POLITICAL statement, for the main roads in Jerusalem were lined with crucified agitators, rebels, dissidents and any others who disturbed the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces.
Perhaps Tiger Woods and any other who reject Christianity is because they haven't seen the real deal.
Inspired by Saint Paul and Thomas Merton, I hope to provoke my sisters and brothers in
Christ, with what Merton responded to the nun who complained to him at a rally
against Vietnam that he hadn't mentioned Jesus once in his speech: "What we are asked to do at present is not so much to speak of
Christ as to let him live in us, so that people may find him by feeling
how he lives in us."
"The duty of the Christian at this time is to do the one task God has imposed upon us in this world today. The task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished; the world will remain constantly in a state of madness"The church [meaning all Christians] must lead the way on the road to the abolition of war"Peace is to be preached and nonviolence is to be explained and practiced."
Perhaps, if Tiger heard that good news instead of all the 'Christian' judgments against him, he just might become a Buddhist-Christian and that would be a lot closer to what Jesus was really about.