Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Soul of Merton 3-25-09

Inspired by my readings of "Contemplative Prayer" and "Contemplation In A World Of Action" by Thomas Merton

In Contemplation In a World of Action, Thomas Merton gives a crystal-clear meditation on the daily battle of the post-modern spirit soul to define who he/she is. This identity crisis leaves our brothers and sisters of this world stuck in between and down and out, wondering why they feel like they've been born under punches, feeling crosseyed and painless.

Of course, in the middle of this multi-cultural, "do what feels right", hedonistic and holistic hodge-podge, it's difficult to define exactly what is the chief problem behind this crisis of identity. Merton, not fooled by the thin film of illusion, writes:

"What is wrong with the world is not the satisfaction of carnal desires but universal confusion and frustration, leading to a collapse of real interest in life, the danger of despair, and the search for an outlet in various forms of extremism, fanaticism, or nihlism: or else, more commonly, a mindless and routine conformity to the demands of a highly organized social machine. These are symptoms. They are not the problem itself."

It's been well-quoted: Depression will become, or has become, one of the world's leading health issues, and it is the duty of the spiritualist to provide the nectar, the balm, to relieve this confusion and frustration. A well and sincerely practiced spiritual life can help one feel less and less like just another part of the mush of "mass society". Merton writes:

"One of the characteristics of mass society is precisely that it tends to keep man from fully achieving his identity, from operating fully as an autonomous person, from growing up and becomin spiritually and emotionally adult."

We have to become conscious before we become Krsna least that's the saying we have here in the ashram to promote mindfulness in our daily acts, like not making noise in the kitchen when devotees are resting nearby, remembering to recycle what can be recycled, etc.

Because our consumerist, exploitative, and impersonal way of being leaves us as children in the emotional and spiritual sense, we must understand that whatever identity we may have is so incomplete and troubled as to leave us paralyzed.

But, by the mercy of Guru and Gauranga, incomprehensibly some of us now have the chance to plunge deep into the oceans of the Holy Name and of selfless service. This provides us the essential gift of a life where we rise above the faceless, nameless "mass society", and which gives us our real identity. Merton writes:

"Identity in this deep sense is something that one must create for oneself by choices that are significant and that requires a courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk. This means much more than just having an address and a name in the telephone book. It means having a belief one stands by; it means having certain definite ways of responding to life, of meeting its demands, of loving other people and, in the last analysis, of serving God. In this sense, identity is one's witness to truth in one's life."

The mercy of Prabhupada's mood and mission, and how we apply it in our lives, according to our own personal abilities and tastes, gives us our real identity. It is the foundation of our knowledge: that we are not this temporary body, but eternal spirit soul, in a loving relationship with our dear Krsna.

It takes little for us to realize, once we are on this path, that it is, as Merton says "a courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk". Our minds, our misunderstanding associates, the harsh tug-and-pull of the "mass society", all these things leaves obstacles in the road back home, but if we sincerely give our best, then Krsna will respond accordingly and lovingly.

Tesam satata yuktanam\Bhajatam priti-purvakam\Dadami buddhi-yogam tam\Yena mam upayanti te
To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. BG 10.10

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