Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Soul of Merton 2-11-09

Further along in the introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, he speaks, in his own unique realization and style, that the prime gift of monastic/spiritual life is the ability to find the internal spiritual strength that is void in contemporary, consumerist society, and being able to share this strength with all those who need it most.

In a planet on edge, the opportunity strengthens to bring the full compassion of Krsna consciousness to the suffering hearts of our brothers and sisters. Merton writes:

"This is an age that, by its very nature as a time of crisis, of revolution, of struggle, calls for the special searching and questioning which are the work of the monk in his meditation and prayer. For the monk searches not only his own heart: he plunges deep into the heart of that world of which he remains a part although he seems to have left it. In reality the monk abandons the world only in order to listen more intently to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from its inner depth."

This is also Prabhupada's mood. It is our deepest responsibility as devotees, having received the gift of the wisdom from Prabhupada's books, to give it freely and with great intelligence and compassion.

We cannot remain holed up in ourselves or within our temple walls. We only waste away if we do not express to others the seed of devotion within our own hearts.

Ultimately we must bring up all the reserves of courage to face our own inner demons, for it is our duty to understand them, to face them, and to transcend them, only so we can learn to help others to do the same. Merton writes:

"The monk who is truly a man of prayer and who seriously faces the challenge of his vocation in all its depth is by that very fact exposed to existential dread. He experiences in himself the emptiness, the lack of authenticity, the quest for fidelity, the 'lostness' of modern man, but her experiences all this in an altogether different and deeper way that does man in the modern world. The monk confronts his own humanity and that of his world at the deepest and most central point where the void seems to open out to black despair. The monk confronts this serious possibility and rejects it, as Camusian man confronts 'the absurd' and transcends it by his freedom...The monk faces the worst and discovers in it the hope of the best. From the darkness comes light. From death, life."

Or as HH Bhakti-Tirtha Swami often said, we must die before dying, allowing Krsna through His mercy and our sincere effort to destroy the false ego.

Our sincere chanting, our sincere prayer, opens the door for this process to begin and continue, and we must have the courage and humility to allow Krsna to express His love and His neverending desire to deliver us back to Him.

The chanting of the Holy Name of Krsna, our most intimate prayer, is our strength and our guide, and the key to our higher self, by giving us countless opportunities to cast off our lower self.

By doing so, we please Prabhupada by becoming his dynamic, loving servants, empowered to offer the proof of eternal happiness to a world that needs it desperately.

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.