Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Soul of Merton 4-18-09

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

I'm upfront about it...discipline. I've rarely had it in my life (outside of high school football, and it did do me wonders then), and in my sadhana, in the here and now, when I need it most, I often fail to grasp it, to utilize it for the real purpose of my life, for the cultivation of real happiness.

You could put it simply like this: I don't understand what real discipline is and how to use it. It's so much more than the following of obligations. It is the processes, the forms which we put to our practice that allows us to hook up to our internal link to the Lord.

It's the deepest need of our heart, and our application and understanding of discipline must lead us to think, feel, and act in such a way to as fulfill this need.

Discipline is an essential aspect of the monastic life, and proper application of discipline allows those of us in the monastic order to fall deeply into the realization of our summons and livelihood, as Merton describes in Contemplation In A World Of Action:

"The monk is a man who, in one way or other, pushed to the very frontiers of human experience and strives to go beyond, to find out what transcends the ordinary level of existence...And he feels if he does not respond to this summons, he cannot be happy because he cannot be fully honest with himself. To evade this would be to reject a certain kind of truth, a certain inner reality, and ultimately to forfeit his self-respect as a human being"

In any extended effort beyond the mundane, from athletic to aesthetic to ascetic, we require a exterior discipline to give focus to our internal discipline. And we must not forget the internal aspect of it, lest we become hard-hearted, out of touch, etc. Our discipline must be dynamic, warmly received, and open to change and adaptation to our time, places, and circumstances.

In terms of the monastic application (which is a rather universal application when we get down to the bare bones of it), Merton writes:

"That is what monastic discipline is all about. It implies the cultivation of certain inner conditions of awareness, of openness, of readiness for the new and unexpected. Specifically, it implies an openness to, a readiness for, what is not normally to be found in an existence where our attention is dissipated and exhausted in other things."

Material life in the Kali-Yuga is spontaneous enough, and as we deepen our restoration of our relationship with Krsna and His devotees, the spontaneous factor also increases. In order to make sure that we are in the proper state to receive both of these degrees of spontaneity, we must find the guidance of those who have developed a strong external and internal discipline, so that they may give us the proper shelter for us to do the same.

A sincere discipline allows us to become real before Krsna, without quarrel and hypocrisy in our words, thoughts, and hearts. Merton states this plainly when he writes:

"True discipline is interior and personal. It is something more than just learning a certain kind of conduct and possessing coherent religious justifications for that conduct. It is one thing to say that when I make a profound bow I intend to express love and adoration for God, but another to really grow and develop in that love and adoration."

This kind of sincere discipline is so rare in contemporary spiritual practices, and without it, you get hodge-podge and treading the surface of the water, without going deep, without facing up to who you are and who you aren't, and what do you get? A spiritual life that can hardly be called spiritual, with one foot in the surf, constantly knocked over by the waves of maya that also crash, because we don't know how to swim.

Discipline, in essence, frees up from the bodily and mental platforms, allowing us and giving us the real, tangible, ecstatic freedom that all these poor, sincere dispossessed souls inhale tear gas and take rubber bullets to the gut in order to find and live by.

Without the determined, enthusiastic, and patient development of such discipline, under proper guidance, we will never find what we are seeking.

Merton concludes:

"Finally, discipline means solitude of some sort, not in the sense of selfish withdrawal but in the sense of an emptiness that no longer cherishes the comfort of various social idols and is not slavishly dependent on the approval of others.

In such solitude one learns not to seek love but to give it. One's great need is now no longer to be loved, understood, accepted, pardoned, but to understand, to love, to pardon and to accept others just as they are, in order to help them transcend themselves in love.

Anyone who undertakes to be a monk knows, by the very fact of his vocation, that he is summoned by God to a difficult, lifelong work in which there will always be anguish and great risk. If he evades this work under any pretext whatsoever, he must know that he cannot have any peace with himself or with God because he is trying to silence the deepest imperative of his own heart."

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