Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Soul of Merton 2-8-09

In his book Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton implores those in the life of prayer to not be afraid to go deep.

Moreover, he wants us to understand that for prayer to be truly genuine, we must express a sincerity, coming from the core of our heart, for God or Krsna to give to us what we truly need, rather that what we may merely want to happen.

How we pray is a clear reflection of where we stand spiritually, where we stand on the dividing line between selfishness and selflessness.

Merton does not mince words. If we are not receptive to God's true will and calling in our life through our prayer, then we are simply fooling ourselves, and treading water instead of swimming towards the most sublime goal.

He writes:

"Far from establishing one in unassailable narcissistic security, the way of prayer brings us face to face with the sham and indignity of the false self that seeks to live for itself alone and to enjoy the 'consolation of prayer' for its own sake. This 'self' is pure illusion, and ultimately he who lives for and by such an illusion must end either in disgust or madness" Our prayer must be intense, constant, and selfless. We must become an open vessel for the mercy of the Lord, no matter what form it may take. There is no ifs and or buts if we want to reach the platform of self-realization and return home"

Merton mentions one such example of those immersed in sincere prayer: The Desert Fathers of early Christianity. He describes these austere souls as not seeking mystic realization or political gain, but instead being only concerned with developing purity of heart and the control of their thoughts.

Their method: The chanting of the name of Lord Jesus Christ. This chanting also appears, Merton explains, in the traditions of Eastern Orthodox churches in nations such as Greece and Russia. Here is an excerpt Merton quotes from a traditional Orthodox text:

"Our glorious teachers, in whom liveth the Holy Spirit, wisely teach us all, especially those who have wished to embrace the field of divine silence (i.e monks) and consecrate themselves to God, having renounced the world, to practice hesychasm with wisdom, and to prefer His mercy with undaunted hope. Such men would have, as their constant practice, and occupation, the invoking of His most holy and most sweet Name, bearing it always in the mind, in the heart and on the lips."

Sounds familiar, hmm? Prabhupada often encouraged sincere Christians in his discussions that to chant the name of Christ is just as important as chanting the name of Krsna...."and thus You have hundreds and millions of names."

The Lord's appearance in the form of His Holy Name is as dynamic as His appearance in His many forms, always according to the desires of His devoted servants.

As I've discussed with devotees here, for someone who chants the name of Christ with full purity and sincerity, it can be expected they will fully revive their eternal relationship with Krsna in this form, and they will no longer suffer the pangs of anxiety.

The simplicity, austerity, and full-hearted prayer of the Desert Fathers can inspire even us who are living in the urban wastelands of the 21st Century even today. I know my own chanting has been inspired by reading their example.

It comes down to adding depth to the prayer of our chanting of the Holy Name. Going beyond our comfort zone. Jumping over our shadow. Letting our prayer, our chanting, act as our support while at the same time allowing it to change us exactly how we need to be changed in order to become pure servants of Krsna.

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