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A Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on Agape and Shantideva on Karuna: Some Moral Dimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana Exchange

A Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on Agape and Shantideva on Karuna: Some Moral Dimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana Exchange

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Published by Raymond Lam
A 2009 thesis written at the University of Queensland concerning the moral affinity between the agape of Thomas Merton and the karuna of Shantideva, centering around the rubrics of unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy.
A 2009 thesis written at the University of Queensland concerning the moral affinity between the agape of Thomas Merton and the karuna of Shantideva, centering around the rubrics of unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy.

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Published by: Raymond Lam on Jan 03, 2010
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School of History, Philosophy, Religion and ClassicsUniversity of QueenslandBachelor of Arts Honours (RELN6003)St. Lucia CampusA Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on
 Agape
and Shantideva on
 Karuna
: Some MoralDimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana ExchangeA Thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Religion at the University of Queensland November 2009Raymond Sze Hon H Lam(Student ID: s4118824)Supervisor: Dr. Neil Pembroke1
 
A
BSTRACT
A Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on
 Agape
and Shantideva on
 Karuna
: Some MoralDimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana ExchangeRaymond Sze Hon H LamUnder the supervision of Dr. Neil PembrokeThis thesis contends that Thomas Merton’s
agape
(1915 –1968) and Shantideva’s
karuna
(8
th
century C.E.) have a strong affinity through the moral dimensions of what arereferred to as unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. It is seeking tocontribute a new perspective to the study of religious ethics by comparing the moralthought of two influential personages in a hermeneutic exercise. It aims to demonstratethat Shantideva’s philosophy on Buddhist
karuna
enters a realm of common moralrapport with Merton’s treatment of Christian
agape
.
  Agape
is the Christian concept and practice of love that is unconditional and voluntary;drawing its life from the triune God’s divine nature.
Karuna
, or compassion, is theBuddhist motivation that forms the foundation of the enlightened mind for all beings(
bodhichitta
). The precise element of Merton and Shantideva’s dialogue consists of their moral dimensions, rubrics of ethical practice and experience identified in the converging perspectives of 
agape
and
karuna
. Unconditional kindness is the dimension of devotionto others through the windows of non-attachment and unqualified care. Positive ethics isthe rubric that aims for an open vision of moral practice that
 
respects the complexities of individuals’ psychological and social situations. Finally, deep empathy is the dimensionof understanding the Other, formed through Merton’s theology of love and empathy andShantideva’s teachings on the mind and the exchange of self and other. These dimensionsform the basis of dialogue between Merton’s
agape
and Shantideva’s
karuna
.This exchange is first established by examining the strands of ethical similarity in2
 
Shantideva’s
karuna
and Merton’s
agape
. It is then developed through the exploration of the common moral dimensions of unconditional kindness, positive ethics and deepempathy. The methodology builds on Gadamer’s hermeneutic of a fusion of horizons toachieve a fusion of 
three
horizons in the encounter with
karuna
and
agape
. This fusionconsists of the horizons of Merton and Shantideva as well as the author’s.One of the wider implications of this study is that the practice of Merton’s Christian
agape
complements the practice of Shantideva’s Buddhist
karuna
,
 
and vice versa. It willexplore the general harmony of these central religious concepts and their wider application into the moral dimensions, leading to new directions of the scholarship of ethics in Buddhist-Christian studies. Fundamentally, this thesis hopes to bridge the gap between two monumental monastic writers by constructing an ethical reading around ahitherto undiscovered connection. It will create a relationship of affinity between twospheres of moral spirituality from two celebrated writers far apart in time, but quite closein their understanding of the ethics of love and compassion.3

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