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Lucia Campus A Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on Agape and Shantideva on Karuna: Some Moral Dimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana Exchange A 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 2009 Raymond Sze Hon H Lam (Student ID: s4118824) Supervisor: Dr. Neil Pembroke
ABSTRACT A Dialogue Between Thomas Merton on Agape and Shantideva on Karuna: Some Moral Dimensions of a Catholic and Mahayana Exchange Raymond Sze Hon H Lam Under the supervision of Dr. Neil Pembroke This thesis contends that Thomas Merton’s agape (1915 –1968) and Shantideva’s karuna (8th century C.E.) have a strong affinity through the moral dimensions of what are referred to as unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. It is seeking to contribute a new perspective to the study of religious ethics by comparing the moral thought of two influential personages in a hermeneutic exercise. It aims to demonstrate that Shantideva’s philosophy on Buddhist karuna enters a realm of common moral rapport 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 the Buddhist 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 devotion to others through the windows of non-attachment and unqualified care. Positive ethics is the 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 dimension of understanding the Other, formed through Merton’s theology of love and empathy and Shantideva’s teachings on the mind and the exchange of self and other. These dimensions form the basis of dialogue between Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna. This exchange is first established by examining the strands of ethical similarity in
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 deep empathy. The methodology builds on Gadamer’s hermeneutic of a fusion of horizons to achieve a fusion of three horizons in the encounter with karuna and agape. This fusion consists 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 will explore 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 a hitherto undiscovered connection. It will create a relationship of affinity between two spheres of moral spirituality from two celebrated writers far apart in time, but quite close in their understanding of the ethics of love and compassion.
DECLARATION I declare that this thesis is my own work and has not been submitted in any other form for another degree or diploma at any university or other institute of tertiary education. Information derived from the published or unpublished work of others has been acknowledged and a list of references are given. I also declare that I am familiar with the rules of the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics and the University relating to the submission of this thesis.
This thesis would not be complete without a declaration of heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Neil Pembroke for his supervision throughout the year of 2009. A project like an Honours thesis is never complete without significant help from a mentor, no matter how devoted the student is to his work. It must be made whole by a kind, wise, and patient supervisor. Neil’s advice was immensely helpful in refining my paper to its current standard. His affirming approach to my work encouraged me throughout the year and I have learned many other things from him to guide me along the path of academia. I also owe much to the enthusiastic support of Dr. Sylvie Shaw, who directed others as well as myself through the first semester of what was to be our first year as independent scholars. She supports her students with a vigour that time itself finds difficult to wear down. She has been a wonderful teacher and I thank her for her involvement in my research and my university endeavours in general. Together, Neil and Sylvie have helped me to ensure that this thesis is free from any major error. I happily acknowledge any overlooked mistakes as my own. I want to thank my family, my inner circle, and my friends for their support of my academic work. I have been blessed with a precious opportunity to pursue the study of religion for the benefit of others. I certainly hope that I can return everyone’s kindness, even though I know in my heart that it can never be repaid in full. I also have no hesitation in further thanking the very subjects of this paper, Thomas Merton and Shantideva, for having lived amongst us as extraordinary poets, religious masters, and human beings. May we continue to always learn from their wisdom. This thesis is dedicated to the Name, the Presence that draws all beings into its compassionate arms.
WB: The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicharyavatara) SS: Siksha-samuccaya Gn: Book of Genesis Ex: Book of Exodus Mt: Gospel of Matthew Mk: Gospel of Mark Lk: Gospel of Luke Jn: Gospel of John Rms: Epistle to the Romans Gal: Epistle to the Galatians
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: Laying the Foundations – Agape and Karuna……………………………...8
Chapter 1: Methodology…………………………………………………………………19 Chapter 2: Unconditional Kindness……………………………………………………...27 Chapter 3: Positive Ethics………………………………………………………………..41 Chapter 4: Deep Empathy………………………………………………………………..58 Conclusion and Further Developments…………………………………………………..70 The Dimensions of Prophetic Action and Caring for Sentients………………….72
Appendices……………………………………………………………………………….79 1. Glossary of Terms………………………………………………......................79 2. Background to Dialectic Hermeneutics………………………………….........82 Figure 1: Graphical Representation of Vor-habe………………………...82 3. Differences in Emphases Between Indian and Chinese Buddhism………………………………………………………………………...83 4. Amitābha………………………………………………………………………86 5. Merton’s Experience at Polonnaruwa…………………………………………91 6. Thesis Amendments from RELN6000 Research Proposal……………………92
INTRODUCTION: LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS OF AGAPE AND KARUNA
European interest in Buddhism grew during the late 18th century with the establishment of Sanskrit studies in universities and a growing availability of Buddhist texts. In the 19th century, a formal dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity commenced once Western writers1 and philosophers met the older of the two faiths with respect and receptivity. By and large, the conversation between these great religions has changed in accordance with the problems of the era – from colonial exploitation in Asia to the aftermath of the 20th century’s many conflicts. Broadly speaking, the current trend of the exchange sees writers identifying a basic cohesion of moral insight and purpose within Buddhism and Christianity. This general affinity is important because its sincere application can bring true healing to a world beset by severe suffering (the 14th Dalai Lama, 1996, p. 38). A productive dialogue that builds on this affinity can resonate on many levels, profoundly changing assumptions about Buddhist or Christian thought, reshaping deeper questions of cooperation between Buddhists and Christians, and providing original and thoughtful answers to the various struggles in ethical living. Presently, these are the more general reasons for which Buddhist-Christian dialogue takes place. I chose to embark on a project with a similar objective in order to articulate the moral affinity between two spiritual masters who still exert significant influence on their readers and command great respect within their faiths. The first figure is a Christian monk called Thomas Merton,2 and the second is Shantideva, a Buddhist monastic.3 Despite being far apart in time and from very different religions, they are very close in their ethics on love and compassion. It is my basic assertion that this closeness is not superficial and deserves a focused, systematic study, accompanied by a critical analysis of each master’s moral thought. This thesis contends that Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna have a strong affinity through the moral dimensions of what will be referred to as unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. These dimensions are commonalities of
Two of the most famous Westerners to devote writings to Buddhism were Sir Edwin Arnold (1832 – 1904) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832 –1907). 2 31 January 1915 – 10 December 1968 3 th 8 century C.E.
ethical practice and experience identified in agape and karuna. Given the depth of Merton and Shantideva’s thought, the rubrics will not be fully sufficient in describing their characteristics, although they do help to summarize their features. It is therefore necessary at this point to define these terms. Unconditional kindness is the dimension of devotion to others through the windows of non-attachment and unqualified care. Positive ethics aims for an open vision of moral practice that respects the complexities of individuals’ psychological and social situations. And deep empathy is the dimension of understanding the Other, formed through Merton’s theology of love and empathy and Shantideva’s teachings on the mind and the exchange of self and other. This introduction aims to set the scene of the thesis and provide the grounds for a dialogue between Merton and Shantideva. The first chapter explains the methodology I am using to interpret my sources. Within it, I argue for my selection of a specific hermeneutic to construct an argument for the moral dimensions that link the teachings of the two spiritual masters. I have chosen to base it on the “fusion of horizons,” a dialectic approach developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer (1979). But because this is a dialogical project, the interpretive fusion actually consists of three historical horizons: Merton’s, Shantideva’s, and the author’s. This forms my paper’s methodology. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 frame the core of this project, addressing the moral dimensions that drive this dialogue. Chapter 2 examines the moral worldviews of Merton and Shantideva through the windows of non-attachment and unqualified care, both of which are common to the two masters. These windows aim to shed light on their shared expression of unconditional kindness, which are found in the literature that they have written. Chapter 3 addresses how Merton and Shantideva’s positive ethics transcends moralism and brings inner freedom without compromising moral involvement. Chapter 4 elaborates on their deep empathy, which forms the active dimension of understanding and identifying with others. Finally, my conclusion evaluates the success and results of the three horizons hermeneutic in building a dialogue between Merton and Shantideva, and offers some final reflections on the complex conversation between them. It highlights the beneficial results of this Catholic and Mahayana exchange, and how these discoveries can be advanced further in the name of Buddhist-Christian solidarity.
Let me briefly introduce the dialogue partners. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who has exerted an impressive influence on the development of a modern Catholicism open to dialogue between different denominations of Christianity and different religions. Towards the later period of his life, he became increasingly involved in social justice, the peace movement, and religious dialogue (particularly with Zen Buddhism). The most notable causes to which he devoted much of his later writing to were the theological reevaluation of the morality of nuclear war, the civil rights movement in the United States, the restoration of justice for oppressed peoples, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. He embodied a unique concern for the world’s moral standing in the eyes of God, harmonizing this social calling with his monastic vows. He remains a source of inspiration to many Christians and non-Christians alike, and is seen as a leading figure of Catholic progressivism. His Buddhist counterpart in this thesis was also a religious luminary of his time. Born as a prince in modern Gujarat, the man once known as Shantivarman renounced his royal inheritance to become a monk, receiving the name of “gentle god” (Shantideva) at Nalanda, a monastic Buddhist university. Shantideva became a renowned teacher of the Mahayana tradition, the Great Vehicle that professes to deliver all beings without exception from suffering (Suzuki, 1963, p. 63). However, Shantideva was never a dry academic. He possessed an unusually independent personality, and the various anecdotes from his life are characteristic of a master who taught with a distinctive style of poetry and wit. He was an extremely intelligent sage with a scholarly acumen that was energized by a tender appreciation for the world’s suffering. To this day he is recognized as a highly important figure in Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in the Tibetan schools. Initially, it might seem difficult for scholars of religion to conceive of any systematic dialogue between Merton and Shantideva’s teachings about the spiritual life. Their historical periods are certainly disparate. But even with this in mind, the two masters have resemblances that provide the foundations for interreligious exploration. Merton did not lead a stainless life before entering Gethsemani, and Shantideva renounced his throne
and a lavish life for the religious vocation. Both were extremely devoted to their monastic lives as holy men. They possessed a sharp sense of humour, were predisposed to solitude, and sung its praises despite their commitment to teaching others. In the later periods of his life, Merton placed great emphasis on the importance of a monk’s work beyond Getshemani’s cloistered walls, while Shantideva was always temperamentally impervious to ecclesiastical pressures (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, pp. 17 – 22). But most importantly, I suggest that they share important affinities in their understanding of morality, expressed in the aforementioned moral dimensions. These dimensions constitute the precise elements of the affinity between Shantideva’s karuna and Merton’s agape. This thesis is dialogical in its focus, but even a thematic emphasis will cover a wide range of subjects that various authors have already studied. These topics encompass karuna, which inevitably covers many aspects of Buddhist philosophy , agape, which will refer to diverse features of Christian philosophy, commentators and scholars’ interpretations of Shantideva, and writers and biographers’ studies on Merton. Therefore, this thesis seeks to anchor itself in a reasonably large body of discourse that will give a reasonably comprehensive analysis of the relationship between Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna. By setting the scene in such a way, the moral dimensions will enjoy greater attention as rubrics of shared ethical thought and experience. As a spiritual writer, Merton composed many works on the central Christian moral principle of agape. Agape is a particular conception of love revealed in Christ, “taken as an indication of an essential quality in God and as a model for human imitation” (Livingstone, 1997, p. 26). While the term has also been rendered as “charity,” most modern renditions translate this Greek word as “love.” The term stems from a distinction between love of the spiritual, selfless form and that of pagan eros, which is a lower, carnal passion (although eros in a Christian sense may mean an intense, contemplative yearning for God). Agape is also distinguished from philia. Philia is a mutual love and is expressed in the reciprocity of friendship. It draws people together and is the power that creates union and builds community. Jesus referred to an agapic love through which one
lays downs one’s life for others, but these others are no longer strangers, but friends (Jn. 15:13). The Spirit draws those who have come to know and embrace this love of God in Christ into the community of Christ’s Body.4 As pointed out previously, agape is understood in Christianity as the quality of God’s action through Jesus and humanity’s response to God and neighbour. Merton’s personal expression of love or agape is formulated thus:
The words of Christ are clear: ‘Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.’ This is not merely a helpful suggestion, it is the fundamental law of human existence. It forms part of the first and greatest commandment, and flows from the obligation to love God with all our heart and soul and strength. This double commandment, giving us two aspects of the same love, obliges us to another asceticism, which is not the answer of Eros, but the answer of Agape (Merton, 1955, p. xix – xx).
In general, Merton’s spiritual theology is one that places primacy on a mindful, contemplative awareness of love for God and neighbour. He makes it very clear that agape is the ultimate moral commitment of the Christian. His writings reflect this commitment to this foundational understanding of God’s love: agape constitutes God’s love for humanity and the human being’s response of love for God and for neighbour. Merton’s most important ideas on this theological principle are compiled in various books such as No Man is an Island (1955), Disputed Questions (1961), Love and Living (1985), and Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander (1989a). His moral imperative of love, whilst continually evolving, rarely changed or diverged from the tradition of contemplative Christianity. He asserts that love possesses a characteristic quality that is his faith’s most important message: the very life and riches of God’s Kingdom (Merton, 1955, p. 145).
Vacek helpfully draws the contrast between philia and the other two loves: “Philia is distinguished from agape and eros by the mutuality of the relation it creates. In philia, as in all love, we love our beloveds. But in philia we love them not for their own sake, as separate individuals, nor for our sake… but for the sake of the mutual relationship we share with them” (Vacek, 1994, p. 281).
Correspondingly, if love for all Creation is the central message of Merton and Christianity, then karuna is the central message of Shantideva and Buddhism. His most celebrated composition was a poem called The Way of the Bodhisattva5 which is fundamentally a devotional instruction manual on the cultivation of bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment that makes the great vows to liberate all sentient beings (Dayal, 2004, p. 50) and attain enlightenment.6 But the foremost virtue one must develop to consolidate any measure of bodhichitta is karuna. Translated as compassion, karuna is pertinent to all Buddhist schools but particularly to Mahayana Buddhism. It is one of the two complementary qualities, along with enlightened wisdom (prajna in Sanskrit), to be cultivated as a central component of bodhichitta. Compassion and wisdom, therefore, are likened to two wings with which one flies towards the shore of Nirvana (Keown, 2004, p. 138). Practised with the Six Perfections (Paramitas)7 of Mahayana practice (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 139), it is also included as one of the essential Four Divine Abodes (Brahmavihara)8 (Yin-shun, 1998, p. 225 – 6). Nevertheless, karuna remains the central foundation of the Great Vehicle and has sometimes been extolled as the virtue that overrides all others. It is the spurring motivation of the bodhisattva, the final actualization of the Mahayana disciple, who strives tirelessly to help all be free from suffering as long as the innumerable world-systems continue to propagate sentient beings. In his own words, Shantideva emphasizes the tireless eternity of compassionate work, recorded with great pathos in The Way of the Bodhisattva: “And now as long as space endures, / As long as there are beings to be found, / May I continue likewise to remain / To drive away the sorrows of the world” (WB, 10.55). This stanza indicates that while Shantideva will eventually be enlightened and free from greed, hatred, and delusion, his compassionate work never
Or Bodhicharyavatara in Sanskrit. For karuna’s primary source, I have used the Padmakara Translation Group’s 2006 edition of his poem, which is translated from the Tibetan, and various commentaries by Buddhist masters (Kelsang Gyatso, 2000, Kunzang Pelden, 2007) and scholars. 7 Generosity, virtue, patience, vigour, concentration, and wisdom (Keown, 2004, p. 242). 8 Loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (Keown, 2004, p. 41).
ends as a bodhisattva. There is also a slowly expanding body of literature on Shantideva’s less familiar writing that clarifies his position on karuna. Barbara Clayton’s analysis of his ethics marks a departure from an exclusive focus on The Way of the Bodhisattva and focuses on the Siksha-samuccaya (Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine), a secondary work which is also a digest of Mahayana practice (2006). Within the Compendium, Shantideva refers to the Dharmasangiti Sutra to refine his perspective on karuna, in which great compassion (maha-karuna) is the progenitor of all other virtues:
As it is said in the Dharmasangiti Sutra: “Then indeed the Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara, the Great Being, said to the Blessed One: … One virtue should be fully mastered and learnt by him, in which are included all the virtues of the Buddha. And what is that? It is great compassion. In great compassion, Blessed One, all the virtues of the Bodhisatvas are included. Just so, Blessed One, when the precious wheel of a universal monarch runs, all the army goes with it; so Blessed One, when the great compassion of a Bodhisatva goes on, all the Buddha’s virtues go with it. Just so, Blessed One, when the sun is risen all are busy about their various businesses, so Blessed One, when great compassion has arisen then all the other virtues that produce wisdom are busy in action. ” (SS, p. 261).
A potentially significant problem arises here when one understands compassion as the driving force of all other Buddhist virtues. In his book Altruism and Reality (1998), Paul Williams argues that Shantideva’s reductive conception of the individual as nothing but the sum of its parts or various elements destroys all motivation and necessity for the compassion that Shantideva extolled. Were he correct, this dialogue between Shantideva and Merton would be essentially meaningless, since compassion for non-existent sentients is a contradiction and therefore pointless. But John Wetleson (2002), in an article that specifically targets Williams’s contention, criticizes his selective interpretation of The Way of the Bodhisattva’s verses 8.101 – 103 and 8.97 – 98 in order to argue that Shantideva’s attainment of prajna or wisdom compromised his compassion. Williams seems to have misconstrued the progression of the Buddhist path – compassion is necessary to realize emptiness, but Stephen Jenkins (1999) observes that nowhere in 15
the vast corpus of Sanskrit literature do we find the assertion that Buddhists feel compassion for beings because they are empty. Therefore, Williams’s contention is refuted by the argument that reductive conception of self or not, compassion is not the result, but the beginning of the Buddhist path (Wetleson, 2002). For Shantideva, compassion finds its highest sphere in conventional reality from an enlightened perspective (WB, 9.76). “For there is no attainment of the ultimate truth, except through conventional truth. The delusion of a goal is for the sake of soothing suffering” (Tripathi, e.d., 1988, p. 235). Jenkins rightly points out that in the interplay of compassion and wisdom as equals (Murti, 1960, p. 6. Pelden, 2007, pp. 397 – 8), compassion actually possesses a temporal priority, a precedent that is necessary for prajna to be cultivated (Jenkins, 1999, p. 125). Jose Cabezon also notes that it is not the experience of Enlightenment that motivated the Buddha to teach sentient beings, but great compassion (Cabezon, 1994, pp. 93 – 94). In contrast to many of the other extant major religions, the primary enterprise of transmission is not explicitly compelled by a revealed experience of the Inconceivable, but by the compassion engendered by such an experience. This is not to say that an experience of the transcendent is not significant. But the pedagogical urge after such an experience is stimulated primarily by insight into the interconnectedness of the universe’s world-systems and an overriding compassion for sentient beings. Therefore, the supreme virtue of karuna compels religious action in the Buddhist mind.9 This thesis begins with the premise that striking similarities can be found between the concepts of agape and karuna. Various authors have already identified these affinities and their examples are provided below. Writers like Wetleson (2002) have astutely pointed out that Shantideva’s loving-kindness and compassion without conditions or limits runs parallel with some characteristics of Christian love. Specifically, these characteristics indicate a universal and positive approach to morality, where the wellbeing of others reflects the wellbeing of oneself:
In… Mahāyāna Buddhism, a distinction is drawn between ordinary loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuna) on the one hand, and great loving-kindness (mahā9
It is also to be distinguished from bodhichitta, in which the latter is a supreme state of mind whilst the former is the supreme virtue that helps give arising to that mind.
maitrī) and great compassion (mahā-karuna) on the other… There are interesting parallels here to the Christian notion of divine love (agape)… If a person perceives his or her deeper self as including all persons, and this whole is perceived as a unity, this will imply a concern for the welfare of all persons as for himself or herself. The second commandment of love in the Jewish and Christian traditions may be understood as an expression of this: one should love one's neighbor as oneself. That would take care of the moral intention… With regard to moral action, one should do to others as one would do to oneself. The scope of this beneficent action would be analogous to the scope of the benevolent motivation (Wetleson, 2002).
It is significant that in a similar vein, Lawrence Cunningham (1999), in his book Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision, notes that Merton believed that “from quite disparate experiences by quite diverse people one learns to deepen the contemplative life” (Cunningham, 1999, pp. 100 – 101). In addressing what Merton became renowned for (his interchange with other contemplative religions), Cunningham observed that:
What Merton was struggling to articulate was not totally unlike the Buddhist notion of compassion for all living things… After all, the Buddhist concepts of mindfulness and compassion had deep resonances within the Christian tradition in general and the monastic tradition in particular (Cunningham, 1999, p. 70).
Although Cunningham’s focus is on Merton, his general conclusion is not unlike Wetleson’s evaluation, which is speaking from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective. Wetleson is particularly intrigued by the shared nuances within the ethics of Christianity and Buddhism, and by the observation that these nuances are inspired by specifically religious teachings.
There are a number of interesting parallels with Christian ethics of love at this point, for instance as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 38-48). The precepts in both cases point in the direction of returning hatred with love, and violence with nonviolence. The Buddhists, however, have done much more to develop a meditative practice, which may enable people to develop their attitudes in this direction. Śāntideva's
BCA is a case in point, especially his chapter six on patience, and his chapter eight, which we have been considering (Wetleson, 2002).
In a similar spirit, Sister Anne Carr contributes a different perspective to this growing acknowledgement of shared moral thought in her book A Search for Wisdom and Spirit (1988). She alludes to the common moral dimensions between agape and Buddhist principles when she speaks of Merton’s thought as an expression of not only charity, but even more daringly, of liberty. This liberty is ideally produced by any religious system, and through this liberty the system itself is transcended (Carr, 1988, p. 143). Merton himself had many profound reasons for approaching the East in a spirit of an openminded student (unlike many Westerners of the colonial past). Much of his motivation stemmed from a moral motivation to develop spiritually10 and the conviction that spirituality without morality is hollow and harmful. It should be noted here that all the authors I mentioned acknowledge that agape and karuna have marked differences in the contexts of their religious systems. They pertain to theology and religious metaphysics and are therefore never identical in their vision of the universe. However, in terms of moral thought and experience, they do point toward an interconnectedness beyond themselves and perhaps, to a certain degree, a legitimate synthesis. But while agape, karuna, and the figures of Merton and Shantideva are enjoying numerous analyses and commentaries, the masters themselves have not been brought together in a hermeneutic exercise of their moral teachings. Therefore, what is attempted in this thesis is a development of the important insights above, and to use the three rubrics I have identified to show exactly how agape and karuna are linked. In this introduction I situated my contentions in the literature that I utilize for constructing Merton and Shantideva’s dialogue. Having briefly surveyed various scholars of Buddhism and Christianity and their discoveries about agape and karuna, it seems
“First, the ‘language’ of Eastern religion (by which we mean their philosophic formulations of the nature of reality), particularly Zen, gave Merton a way to express his unfolding experience. Second, Merton was increasingly disgusted with technological, materialistic America, and the Eastern way provided an alternative to its ‘getting and keeping’ mentality. Third, and related to the second, Merton thought Westerners had lost ‘interiority’ in their religious lives and Eastern religions provided techniques for recapturing that aspect of spiritual development. Finally, Merton looked East as a part of his interest in monastic renewal” (Thurston, 1994).
apparent that various writers in the field of religion and spiritual development are aware of their moral and experiential commonalities. It is at this point where I re-iterate the possibility of a mutual dialogue in the moral dimensions. My foremost objective in this dialogical thesis is to offer a first step to the nascent journey of these two monastics. Its innovation is not only about the commonalities between agape and karuna, for others have already addressed them. More specifically, the wider implication is that the practice of Merton’s Christian agape complements the practice of Shantideva’s Buddhist karuna and vice versa. It will explore the general harmony of these central religious concepts and their practical application into unconditional kindness, positive ethics and deep empathy, leading to new directions for research on ethics in Buddhist-Christian studies. Fundamentally, this thesis hopes to bridge the gap between two major monastic writers by constructing a dialogue around a hitherto undeveloped connection in their ethical thought. It will advance, as fully as possible, the affinity between two spheres of moral spirituality from two celebrated writers far apart in time, but quite close in their understanding of the ethics of love and compassion.
CHAPTER 1: METHODOLOGY
This paper will adopt a methodology that critically analyses the commonalities and contrasts of ideas between Shantideva’s understanding of karuna and Merton’s prolific writing on agape. This entails a fundamentally hermeneutic exercise, though it must first be acknowledged that hermeneutics is an enormous field of study and that this chapter cannot hope to cover all its complexities. A firm grasp of the chosen interpretive technique will be sufficient. Accordingly, I propose that this dialogical exercise is achieved through a self-conscious and self-critical reading of the texts. I must recognize the degree of subjectivity involved in any hermeneutic exercise whilst appreciating the importance of a valid exchange of ideas coherent with the religious visions of Buddhism and Christianity. This approach is directly inspired by Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “fusion of horizon” hermeneutics described in his most important book, Truth and Method (Gadamer, 1979, pp. 269 – 274). While Gadamer originally conceived of two horizons in the application of his hermeneutic, I shall expand this concept (of an interpreter meeting a historical horizon) into a realm of three individual horizons, in which I encounter two horizons in a tripartite conversation: Merton’s and Shantideva’s. I willingly embrace my own historical contribution to the conversation between Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna. Beginning with Heidegger’s Being and Time, dialectic hermeneutics was more so an art of life than a science of interpretation because it required the self-aware reader to project their own biases and presuppositions onto the text before allowing it to permeate the reader with its own biases and presuppositions (Demeterio, 2001a). This circular process could continue for some time until a consensus or “understanding” between the interpreter and the text was reached. In Filipino philosopher F.P.A. Demeterio III’s words: “This consensus constitutes the existential meaning of the text” (Demeterio, 2001a). While this hermeneutic technique generally lacks the more rigorous textual, historical and cultural methodologies that characterized the romantic hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, they “… are supplanted by a heightened attention to the
radical differences between the subject’s and the object’s life-worlds, and sincere conviction to listen and to dialogue” (Demeterio, 2001a). Specifically for Gadamer, the opponent of progressive hermeneutics is “prejudice against prejudice itself,” or an interpreter’s ignorance or denial of their “historicality” (Gadamer, 1979, pp. 268 – 269). Since the Enlightenment, the typically scientific preoccupation with the possibility of objective truth and the desire to be free from all manner of presuppositions and biases anathematized human concepts such as culture or taste, condemning them as prejudices too subjective to be trusted. In hermeneutics, this prejudice against prejudice found its fullest articulation in Husserl, Schleiermacher and Dilthey’s methodical bracketing of all prejudices. Gadamer termed this “aesthetic historical positivism” (Gadamer, 1979, p. 274). But while it is true that many human concepts contain prejudices – some of them insidious and harmful – Gadamer saw that romanticist hermeneutics was swinging towards another extreme and operating on a pretext of humble impartiality. It was in fact exceedingly arrogant by ignoring its own finite existence within history (Gadamer, 1979, p. 268) and attempting to legitimize the interpreter as the arbiter of objective truth outside of history. In this case, objectivism is based on a subjective presumption that the human mind can objectively grasp the ultimate with no regard for the conventions that characterize human existence. A declaration of commitment to the objectivist ideal is essentially a subterfuge; the high level of subjectivity operating in the hermeneutic endeavour is often hidden and suppressed. The danger of this approach has far-reaching consequences. In its darkest manifestation, subjective belief in objectivity can lead to mistaken and often unquestioned assumptions of cultural, religious or moral superiority. History has demonstrated many times that those that entertain such expectations become far too dogmatic and destructive to deserve being called “humble.” Gadamer believed that a history-conscious interpretation would inevitably involve a tension between the text and the present reader. But for him, the hermeneutic task was to consciously and intentionally “bring this tension out” (Gadamer, 1979, p. 273). This would illuminate the horizon of the present (the interpreter) and the historical horizon
(the text). The “horizon” is a certain set of already present and, by definition, subjective and limited knowledge and assumptions that demarcates the hermeneutical exercise, providing the means of understanding to the text as well as the interpreter (Gadamer, 1979, p. 269). But, in contrast to Heidegger’s conception of the rigid fore-structures of understanding,11 Gadamer emphasizes the horizon’s fluctuations and changeability: horizons can enter into dialogue with other horizons through exposure and understanding (Gadamer, 1979, p. 270). In his words:
The horizon is… something into which we move and that moves in us. Horizons change for a person who is moving. Thus the horizon of the past, out of which all human life lives and which exists in the form of tradition, is always in motion… Every encounter with tradition that takes place within historical consciousness involves the experience of the tension between the text and the present… This is why it is part of the hermeneutic approach to project an historical horizon that is different from the horizon of the present (Gadamer, 1979, pp. 272 – 273).
Gadamer’s idea of subjective horizons fusing together is therefore a dialogue or endeavour towards mutual conversation, even if some disagreements remain. The interpreter is aware of their horizon’s otherness to the text and distinguishes the horizon of tradition from their own. But the latter is only something laid over a continuing tradition, and it recombines what it has distinguished to become one with itself again, but in the unity of the historical horizon it has acquired (Gadamer, 1979, p. 273). This is the complete meaning of the famous “fusion of horizons,” or Horizontverschmelzung. It entails the actual transcending of the horizons in question to reach a higher universality through the meeting of different historical contexts and ideas and the uniting of prejudices and beliefs. This uniting of prejudices, in the context of a dialogue, brings the projected horizons to mutual understanding: “In the process of understanding there takes place a real fusing of horizons, which means that as the historical horizon is projected, it is simultaneously removed” (Gadamer, 1979, p. 273). Demeterio hypothetically questions this approach: “But an obvious question confronts us
See Appendix 6.2.
at this point: how can we talk of a dialogue between a subject-that is, the reader or the interpreter-and an object-that is the text? How can a dialogue ensue between a person and a non-person?” (Demeterio, 2001b). Gadamer would reply that interpretation is a certain form of dialogue. As contended earlier, the conscious act of fusion (Gadamer, 1979, p. 273) is constructed as a dialogue, but it also follows a specific process of dialogue: first, the interpreter’s present horizon approaches the text’s projected historical horizon, and through the act of reading and engagement, he or she ideally comes to engage in a critical self-examination and reflection, reaching a certain degree of self-awareness in regards to their own horizon. Following this process is yet another stage of continuous modification and transcendence over one’s horizon on part of the interpreter. But he or she, in turn, possesses the capacity to bring the object or text from its original horizon, repeatedly if necessary, until a satisfactory fusion is achieved. This is essentially a cyclical process with a linear end product: Horizontverschmelzung (Gadamer, 1979, p. 271). Hence, not only does the text become fully autonomous and open to active dialogue, the central task of the fusion of horizons is achieved.12 Therefore, cultural and historical divergences, once believed to be epistemologically dangerous by the romantic hermeneutical schools, are not to be discarded but accepted. Temporal and cultural differences, especially noticeable in the lives of Merton and Shantideva, have the potential to sift away an interpreter’s aesthetic historical positivism. In the process of their dialogue, certain differences (especially in metaphysics) may arise, but this is not something to be brushed aside. Without at least some degree of this “freedom of subjectivity,” the interpreter is imprisoned in time and cannot transcend herself to project the historical horizon of the text he or she seeks to understand. Therefore, from Gadamer’s perspective, the conscious act of fusion is the truly crucial issue in hermeneutics (Gadamer, 1979, p. 274). Scholars observe that thanks to Heidegger and Gadamer, the term “hermeneutics” has
In Robert Hattam’s words, a dialogue invokes the idea of “a pedagogical space, a place for hybridity or double consciousness, a borderland that nurtures the possibility of mutual reinvention.” This description is in concordance with Gadamer’s horizonal hermeneutic because dialogue should be understood as a practice that involves “reciprocal speaking and listening, respectful and rigorous interrogation, and thoughtful introspection and modification of views” (Hattam, 2004, p. v).
undergone a revision in terms of texts’ assumed historical conditioning: that both the text and the interpreter possess their own “historical conditionedness” which are the “two horizons.” The task of the interpreter is, therefore, to facilitate a meaningful interaction between these two horizons so that a genuine understanding can take place. The fusion of horizons is therefore the technique of understanding a thought or event from one historical, cultural and social context in relation to the interpreter’s own. More specifically, the interpreter projects an immediate meaning onto the totality of the text after any initial, relevant meaning emerges for the dialogue. The latter can emerge in the first place only because the interpreter reads the text with particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. This fore-project is constantly reshaped and changed as the interpreter continues the journey into the text. The question of this fore-project, then, is identifying what the text offers (Demeterio, 2001b) and articulating its benefits for the field of one’s study. Gadamer’s interpretive framework was chosen for this paper’s methodology because it is, if applied correctly:
…a pathway of experience. It is the cure against objectivism’s arrogance. Its doctrine of humility does not consist of proclaiming that it is the object that is the measure of truth, but of acknowledging the subject's inherent epistemological and horizontal limitations and of opening the subject's horizon to conversation… In the end, Wahrheit und Methode declares that Wahrheit can never be captured by any Methode, capturing the Gadamerian Warheit is reserved for the phronetic act of dialogue (Demeterio, 2001b).
However, because there are two texts, or two subjects to address in this thesis – Merton and Shantideva – the paper’s critical hermeneutic is more accurately described as a “Fusion of Three Horizons”: that of Merton, that of Shantideva, and that of the interpreter, this paper’s author. Gadamer’s articulation of dialectic hermeneutics is actually similar to the openness between Merton and Shantideva, where both subjects (and the author of this thesis) acknowledge conceptual limitations in their understanding, but can still find close harmony within one another’s horizons – especially those of the moral dimensions through agape and karuna. Practically speaking, this approach of “three horizons” requires the author of this thesis to 24
consolidate his self-awareness. I am required to make clear for myself, as a reader of Merton and Shantideva, where my horizon lies. An excessively detailed explanation of my philosophical and religious commitments is unnecessary – the foundations will be sufficient. My horizon is that of a Chinese man influenced by Australian values, who was raised as an agnostic before converting to Chinese Mahayana Buddhism after eight years of exploring spirituality. I believe in the liberation of all sentient beings in all worlds, in accordance with Amitābha’s desire (please see Appendix 7.4). My preference for contemplative and thoughtful religious practice was what drew me quite straightforwardly to Merton’s writings on interreligious dialogue, love, and social justice. My relationship with Shantideva is slightly more complex. He is, of course, a primary subject of this thesis because of his monastic and ethical rapport with Merton. But I recognize that I am in no way partial towards him simply because I am a Buddhist: his conception of emptiness, the ultimate vision of Buddhism, in actuality contrasts with my own understanding of Chinese Buddhism’s notion of emptiness. It is not unjustified to connect the relative obscurity of Shantideva in China (compared to Tibet) with the more austere and stark Indian conceptions of emptiness.13 Historically, due to its foreignness, Buddhism was forced to defend itself against already well-established Confucian and other philosophical critics in the Middle Kingdom. In the face of this challenge, Chinese patriarchs were able to exercise their genius to offer a religion that was distinctly Chinese whilst authentically Buddhist14 by developing an ontology that affirmed the pure ground of the phenomenal world’s defiled manifestations. They managed to affirm the intrinsic purity of human endeavour and satisfied indigenous humanistic and Confucian concerns. Therefore, Shantideva’s understanding of emptiness is not identical to mine. Shantideva is a Buddhist, but his Buddhism is not completely familiar to me, in part, due to his different conceptualization of emptiness, and must therefore be approached as someone with a different contemporary and historical horizon, like Merton.15
Indian Mahayana Buddhists traditionally referred to these ideas of “no sentient beings to save” and notexisting and not-non-existing as terrifying. But as with all Buddhist traditions, this cannot be interpreted as a nihilistic philosophy – it is simply a different emphasis. 14 See Appendix 6.3. 15 Shantideva and the Indo-Tibetan tradition also lack the element of doctrinal classification ( p’an-chiao), which is a complex Chinese technique of developing the important themes of particular sutras.
Simply put, by applying my own horizon to the texts of Merton and Shantideva, I am freely acknowledging that my scholarship will possess an element of hermeneutic subjectivity that guarantees a degree of uniqueness, which lays no claim to ultimate objectivity but is earnestly open to discussion and mutual learning. My interpretation of their moral thought will not necessarily be a universal one, nor is it expected that other scholars will wholly agree with me. However, as explained earlier, this is a dialogical thesis and does not seek to make connections where they do not exist or are too weak. It is possible to point to many facets of Buddhist and Christian doctrine that cannot and should not be lumped together in a forced, awkward meeting. Accordingly, because three perspectives are at play, there must be a set of criteria that determine not objective but legitimate readings of Merton and Shantideva, which allows for an acceptable dialogue between ideas that are essentially their own. This will basically help to delineate the grounds for a practical application of the fusion of horizons as a methodological technique. These criteria are: 1. That the readings do not impose any Buddhist doctrines on Merton or Christian doctrines on Shantideva; 2. That it is explicitly and/or evidently addressing moral issues from the primary sources of the writers’ compositions; 3. That there is no forcing of a horizon on any other – Gadamer’s method is not advocating forcing an interpretation of texts; it advocates a dialogue between texts; 4. That accordingly, where there is disagreement or a philosophical difference between any of the three horizons, it must be acknowledged as an inevitable and even necessary component for dialogue to be meaningful and enriching, and: 5. That it fulfils the overarching objective of this thesis: to contribute a new connection between Merton and Shantideva’s religious ethics to BuddhistChristian studies. A reading that detracts from the moral dimensions and into metaphysical or soteriological grounds is seen as an illegitimate reading. The challenge here is to draw knowledge and wisdom from the writers’ complex and
comprehensive texts whilst remaining centred on the general intention of enriching Buddhist-Christian dialogues in moral thought. The overarching intention of criterion five is not, of course, the paper’s lone intention. It also hopes to contribute to the more general field of scholarship for Merton and Shantideva. However, this broader ambition will seek to be achieved according to the directives of the five criteria, which will establish the validity of this thesis’s hermeneutical methodology and the legitimacy of its Merton-Shantideva dialogue. Having determined the historical perspectives of Merton, Shantideva and the author of the thesis, it is now feasible to commence a dialogue between the two masters. This conversation consists of the moral dimensions I have proposed and will begin with unconditional kindness.
CHAPTER 2: UNCONDITIONAL KINDNESS I have chosen the rubric “unconditional kindness” to express devotion to other people and sentient beings. This is the first dimension that is quickly recognizable in the two masters (and becomes even more pronounced in Merton’s later writing). They see unconditional love and compassion, which is a moral vision with the widest possible scope, as an important step to spiritual maturity. The windows through which I examine this rubric are non-attachment and unqualified care, because the masters understand these characteristics as essential to authentic and self-aware morality. Non-attachment from self-centred motivations is the mark that gives a disciple the lucidity and direction to fulfil his or her potential to love unconditionally. Unqualified care is the second mark that Buddhists and Christians strive to actualize, because it is directly related to the transcendent personality’s unconditional compassion. But as I will demonstrate, unconditional kindness is not a passive acceptance of everything without regard for the consequences. It does not mean that one should simply ignore or overlook sin and moral transgression. But Merton and Shantideva ask their readers, at least philosophically and theologically, to have faith and believe in the possibility of truly unconditional love and compassion towards every individual. They challenge their students and readers to strive for a transcendent affection that can give freely and endlessly, and does not discriminate in terms of social worth, utility value, or moral stature. In the context of unconditional kindness, it must first be observed that agapic love does not necessarily appear as attached or passionate. In fact, it shares with karuna the characteristics of detached and “disinterested” affection. These words can be easily misconstrued. Of course, non-attachment does not mean that one’s benevolent stance is aloof or unfeeling. Agape is bursting with aliveness to reciprocate God’s love. The Christian is reborn in the light of Jesus and strives to follow his example by doing deeds of goodness, justice, and mercy in the world. Nor is non-attachment equivalent to ideas of a “distant father,” who is largely absent from his children’s struggles and sorrows and sustains them only through material goods with no emphasis on involvement, nurture, and emotional fulfillment (Groenhout, 2008, p. 52). This is largely a cultural imposition
on the divine personality (Groenhout, 2008, p. 56).16 In the Bible, God is actively involved in comforting and supporting his people, and this is manifested in many examples, such as Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham (Gn 12:1 – 3) and the Incarnation of Jesus. There exists a parallel on the more ordinary level: people who love agapically are not distant parents because they care for their children with a selfless affection that reflects the involved love of God. In human relations, non-attachment has a much deeper, multi-faceted meaning that embraces active involvement in the interaction between the agapic lover and the beloved. Unconditional kindness involves non-attachment because there can be no self-centred motivation in a life that aspires towards true love. Non-attachment is a selfless expression of affection that gives agape and karuna their inexhaustible power. In the Christian understanding, disinterested love means that one loves all people equally. The disciple loves the lovely and the unlovely, the intelligent and the dull, the interesting and the boring in the same way. It does not have favourites, and it does not expect anything in return. The disciple gives and shares freely, and is not attached to the prospect of receiving anything in return. Merton writes: “infinite sharing is the law of God’s inner life… In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and be” (Merton, 1955, p. 3). This is possible in agape because it “loves because it loves” and for no other reason or purpose, and is therefore perfectly free. In this way, agape surpasses human capacities and is the direct creation of the divine (Irwin, 1991, p. 9). It is oriented towards the perfectly free God, who desires to enter into a relationship of love and unqualified freedom with humanity. There is a sense of paradox here. The unconditional love for neighbour indeed calls for self-denial, at least in the worldly conception. The rewards of unconditional kindness are generally of the internal nature, even if it is possible for one’s good deeds to be rewarded. But the point is that one does not seek these things from the loving act. The New Testament teaches that those who wish to be first must be the very last – they must humble themselves before God and neighbour, and be the servant of all (Mk 9:35). Put in a similar way, to save our lives we must be prepared to lose them (Lk 9:24). Love grounded in God’s eternal command does not depend on the contingencies of
Ruth Groenhout argues that this masculine image of God is partly influenced by the “absent provider father” of the 1950’s.
temporal existence, or whether one is loved in return. This is the reason why the Christian, through unattached love, is empowered as an agent of God’s will (Evans, 2008, p. 82) and freed from unhealthy dependence on others. The importance is that one exercises agape in order to conform oneself to Christ and his way of being in the world. Shantideva approaches non-attachment from a slightly different angle. To be empowered to exercise unqualified care, one must develop an unbiased attitude to one’s treatment of others. In the Siksha-samuccaya, Shantideva argues that non-attachment empowers one to exercise moral virtues freely for the benefit of other beings (Clayton, 2006, p. 42). The human person should protect and enhance her own capacities and means for moral action, such as her knowledge, sense of justice, and material wealth. But these things can only accomplish deeds of compassion if one is willing to renounce them. A disciple must be unattached to the means of good deeds like money, time, and physical and mental aptitude. Only then can they be used for wholesome purposes alone. Clayton expresses Shantideva’s intentions thus:
That is, one must protect, purify, and then enhance everything one has: oneself, the objects of one’s pleasure or enjoyment, and one’s welfare or good fortune… in order to truly fulfil the altruistic foundation for this path, however, one first has to be willing to give up all forms of grasping (parigraha) or attachment (upadana) to these things. Hence, one must practice renunciation or offering ( utsarga), in order to perfect giving (dana), and this begins by adopting the bodhisattva’s resolution to devote one’s whole being to bring benefit and welfare to others. Only by first establishing the desire for complete non-attachment to all of one’s “possessions,” both physical and psychological, will one be appropriately prepared to protect, purify, and cultivate them for the benefit of others (Clayton, 2006, p. 42).
It can be noted here that Shantideva’s notion of protection is very Christ-like. Christ emptied himself of all unwholesome desires in order to be filled with God’s grace and thus was a perfect channel of his love and kindness into the world. Christopher Ives expands further on this idea of non-attached morality. Like many religious traditions, Buddhism considers religious liberation to be within the realm of ethics as well as
“beyond” it. Even though the practitioner in a certain sense does move beyond the ethical realm, he or she ultimately “returns” to it because Buddhism functions not only by improving the ethical life, but by overcoming the inherent alienation and perplexity in human existence by promoting a realisation of the seamless whole of reality: a network of interdependent events “which eludes the grasp of dualistic subjectivity and its accompanying dichotomies or projected boundaries” (Ives, 1992, p. 47), such as us and them, mind and body, or humanity and nature. Through this detached, rational conclusion about interconnectedness, unqualified care naturally follows from one’s religious and moral thought. Non-attachment, or disinterested love and compassion, actually creates the conditions for the disciple to practice unconditional kindness. While Ives was addressing specifically Zen Buddhism in the passage above, the “returning” to the world to share what one has realized remains intimately pertinent to Merton’s perspective. This is due to Merton’s “double-role” as a monk in solitude and his very prolific life as a writer, in which he makes clear that his calling must be to reveal God to the human community. Noting the simultaneous detached but life-affirming attitude of Buddhism, Merton writes that disinterested love opens a way to understanding the unqualified care of the Christian and Buddhist traditions (Merton, 1964, pp. 263 – 4). He first attempts to refute Western misunderstandings that Buddhism means to nihilistically deny the world and other people as “unreal,” prescribing meditation to enter into a state of nothingness called Nirvana (Merton, 1968a, p. 93). He writes that the Buddhist teachings are not contemptuous of life, and are indeed extremely solicitous for it (1968a, p. 93). Most fundamentally, they penetrate the meaning and reality of suffering by meditation or wisdom (prajna), and protect all beings against suffering by nonviolence and compassion (karuna). They help beings to “rise above domination by necessity and process,” and to “study and judge the forces of passion and delusion that go into operation” when they confront the world in their isolated egos (Merton, 1989, p. 90). Expanding on Merton’s reflections, karuna, like agape, is a vibrant concept rich with spiritual vitality and mythic significance, especially in the manner it is expressed in The Way of the Bodhisattva. The poem is itself seen as a work of
It [The Way of the Bodhisattva] embodies a definition of compassion raised to its highest power and minutely lays out the methods by which this is achieved. It is an overwhelming demonstration of how concern for others, in a love that wholly transcends desire and concern for self, lies at the core of all true spiritual endeavor and is the very heart of enlightened wisdom (Introduction to WB, 2006, p. 1).
Shantideva’s unqualified care is the specific theme of two chapters in The Way of the Bodhisattva. They are Chapter Three: Taking Hold of Bodhichitta, and Chapter Ten: Dedication. So important is this dimension that Shantideva makes it clear that even the spiritual path that focuses on salvation for oneself is not the authentic spiritual path. He asks rhetorically, “What use have I for such insipid liberation?” (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 291). A keen proponent of the bodhisattva ideal, he is primarily concerned with compassion and loving-kindness’ degree, scope, and extent. Throughout The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva expresses eloquently his endeavour to abandon all traces of discrimination against others who do not treat him kindly. He will leave behind any form of judgement against those who hurt him through malice: “All those who slight me to my face / Or do to me some other evil, / Even if they blame of slander me, / May they attain the fortune of enlightenment!” (WB, 3.17). But the most innovative reason why the bodhisattva’s compassionate power is unsurpassed is because it continues to be exercised for every individual, be they holy man or murdering rapist, over as many lifetimes as necessary.17 All other beings, through the bodhisattva’s virtuous actions and dedications, are empowered to participate in her merits (Geshe Yeshe Tobden, 2005, p. 353). By learning the Dharma and offering their bodies to the Buddha, they therefore render themselves useful to even more beings (2005, p. 233). Essentially, there exists an undivided focus on the suffering of others and what it means to embrace every single suffering individual without any ulterior motive or hesitation. This is especially clear in chapter of Dedication. Shantideva concludes his poem with a prayer that none will be
This reflects Jesus’ teaching of love for enemies, which Merton frequently picks up on. It can be contrasted with the Old Testament: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (the law of talion). Instead, it is taught that should one strike us on one cheek, that we turn the other for our enemy (Mt 5:38 – 9).
denied the benefits of his spiritual practice:
May beings never languish in the lower realms, / May pain and hardship be unknown to them. / With bodies greater than the gods, / May they attain enlightenment without delay. May beings time and again / Make offerings to all the Buddhas. / And with the Buddha’s unimagined bliss / May they enjoy undimmed and constant happiness. May all the Bodhisattvas now fulfill / Their high intention for the sake of wanderers. / May sentient beings now obtain / All that their Guardians wish for them (WB, 10.47 – 49).
The gist of the Dedication chapter is that it directs the prayer of the author to empty the very hells and deliver their inhabitants from their misery. But it may be asked: where is the justice in this prayer? It seems natural to insist that the prisoners of Avici18 do not deserve to have their burning bodies quenched by cool streams of water (10.5). It is possible to question whether the damned deserve to smell the fragrant scent of divine lotuses and hear the cries of swans, geese and waterfowl (10.7). It seems correct to protest that serial killers, child abusers, tyrants, or ethnic cleansers are permitted to dwell in woodland glades (10.6) and sport with goddesses in a heavenly river (10.10). But this is precisely Shantideva’s mark of unconditional kindness: his absence of moral condemnation. As the hail of weapons and sharp blades become a rain of flowers thrown in play (10.9), it becomes apparent that Shantideva’s compassion is intended to be extended towards even those who have committed grave offences against the Buddha and to sentient beings. This compassion is so strong that no moral offence, no matter how heinous, blocks its flow. It must be clarified here that this abstention from judging others does not mean that justice becomes unimportant. Moral condemnation might not be advocated, but moral evaluation is not laid aside, because in many situations it is appropriate. For example, it is entirely proper to conclude that killing an innocent person is an evil and despicable act.
Hell of Unrelenting Pain.
Love and compassion do not hinder human reason from making evaluations of deeds that are morally questionable or even repugnant. Buddhist texts also warn of the dire sufferings one will bear in the hell-realms should one live a life of murder, exploitation, thievery or lies. Shantideva is well aware of this and acknowledges the reality of karmic retribution in many passages (4.12, 5.27, 7.69). The point is that he will not decide what others deserve: whatever their merits or demerits warrant is left to this neutral, inexorable law of nature. It is also important to note that Merton agrees with Shantideva insomuch that the acceptance of the sinner or transgressor does not indicate acceptance of the offence. A distinct vision is present in Christianity that promises a divine response to sin and injustice (although opinions on the nature of this divine response vary). The meting out of God’s justice at the end of time is a central doctrine in theistic thought, for God is not only the creator and redeemer of the world, but its judge as well. The Nicene Creed, which is the profession of faith adopted by virtually all Christian churches, clearly states that Jesus Christ will “come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end” (Wilhelm, 1911). Therefore, Christianity teaches that the judgement of human beings by other human beings is rejected by the love and sovereignty of Jesus. Because of this belief, Merton avoids a prerogative to judge others, for the judgement of individuals is the authority of God alone.19 Thus, Shantideva’s prayer in the Dedication chapter is consequently not so much a denial of the reality of karma or an acceptance of unacceptable offences. It is intended to be an articulation of the strength of his compassion (WB, 2006, p. 7). His unconditional kindness points to a new vision of things, which is ultimately grounded in unqualified care. Instead of dividing the universe now and forever into twin compartments, he focuses on the predicament of samsara as it is. And in another subversion that may surprise some readers, he urges that we accept our adversaries wholeheartedly (a discontent loved one
In any case, as far as I know, Merton wrote little on the theology of the afterlife. It is not a major concern in his writing, and as a spiritual author he may not have felt that he had the qualifications – or even the need – to systematically expound his theories regarding the nature of divine judgement, reward, and punishment. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he notes: I would even say that, like most modern men, I have not been much moved by the concept of “getting into heaven” after muddling through this present life. On the contrary, my conversion to Catholicism began with the realization of the presence of God in this present life, in the world and in myself, and that my task as Christian is to live in full and vital awareness of this ground of my being and of the world’s being (1989a, p. 320).
or a hostile enemy), but also that we see them as our very teachers, mentors to whom we owe immense gratitude (6.107 – 11). Not only will they become enlightened in the distant or not-so-distant future, they also help the individual they trouble to grow in patience and the virtues required for Nirvana. They challenge us to practice virtue and compassion in ways our allies or friends cannot. For Shantideva, unconditional kindness does not simply embrace all; he praises and “venerates” his tormentors because they awaken him to the reality of his ego-clinging, providing invaluable opportunities to practice patience and purification. From the Buddhist perspective, these apparent subversions actually stem from two basic notions: the conception of the Buddha and the ideal of Buddha Nature. In the Mahayana tradition, the Buddha is seen as the Dharmakaya, or the Body of Truth that embraces all beings. Therefore, the Buddha is not a mere abstraction or historical example, but very much alive with transcendent personality and wisdom (Yoshifumi, 1978, p. 69 – 70). As such, it recognizes the diverse inclinations and aspirations of everything, and hence teaches in infinitely accommodating ways. The Buddha not only reveals the Inconceivable to the worlds but also expresses unconditional compassion by responding diversely to the manifold sufferings of beings. Edward Conze illustrates it thus: the Tathagāta’s omniscience is “like a prism; perfect, impassive, with no color of its own, it is touched by the faith, the development, the questions, the intentions of sentient beings and refracts the teaching that is appropriate to each” (Lopez, 1988, p. 48 – 49). A passage in Shantideva’s poem supports this illustration. The Confession chapter declares the author’s hope that all beings will experience the peace of Sukhāvati (WB, 10.4).20 Popularly known in East Asian Buddhism as the Pure Land, Sukhāvati is a Buddhauniverse created by Amitābha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.21 Sukhāvati is a universe beyond space and time where the conditions are perfect for one to realize bodhisattvahood and enlightenment. Upon emerging from a holy lotus in Amitābha’s Presence, those reborn into the Pure Land can choose to realize Nirvana completely under
Known in English as the Land of Ultimate Bliss and Peace, Sukhāvati is mentioned only once in The Way of the Bodhisattva but remains particularly important to the East Asian tradition and the modern Mahayana movement. 21 For those unfamiliar with the Pure Land expression of the Mahayana tradition, please refer to Appendix 4.
Amitābha’s guidance or be reborn as powerful bodhisattvas. These bodhisattvas will manifest themselves in limitless ways and forms, in world-systems where there are suffering beings that need succour. All that is required to merit a rebirth in the Pure Land is to have faith in Amitābha’s Primal Vow and constantly retain Amitābha in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions (Larger Sutra, 270b, 11). Shantideva also promotes this devotional approach to the Buddha and the bodhisattvas (WB, 5.31, 32). It is considered the surest means of attaining liberation because it embraces beings that are incapable of striving for enlightenment on their own. It also provides the most direct way to perceive the Buddha’s Presence. Therefore, The Precious Mirror of the Lotus School states that Amitābha is the real compassionate father of sentient beings (Tsung-pen, 1994, p. 173). He teaches them with infinite wisdom (Yoshifumi, 1978, p. 25) and provides unbounded chances for growth. This compassionate wisdom assumes the highest priority in the Buddha’s eyes. It is this example that disciples must follow to the best of their ability, because the “descent of compassion” (Nagao, in Kawamura, 1997, pp. 71 – 2) is as crucial as the “ascension of insight” in religious practice. This is essentially a reflection of the Middle Path, the Buddha’s teaching to avoid extremes and live in compassionate moderation, even in regards to religious concerns. Geshe Yeshe Tobden’s commentary on The Way of the Bodhisattva (2005) provides another insight about the Buddha’s unqualified care. In it, he elaborates that to worship the Buddha while lacking compassion for sentient beings is unsupportable because the latter are the objects of the Buddha’s benevolence. The best way to repay this unbiased kindness, therefore, is by serving and taking care of sentient beings, to whom the Buddhas and bodhisattvas have dedicated their lives. He illustrates this with the analogy of a mother whose son has been harmed: “A mother loves her son, and if we help him she will be delighted, whereas if we harm him she will suffer.” One therefore cannot truly please a mother while harming her son at the same time. Likewise the Buddhas, who dedicate themselves completely to all beings, will be pleased if the latter are benefited. But if disciples worship the Buddhas, wishing to please them, while at the same time neglecting beings and having no compassion toward them, this is a contradiction and constitutes inappropriate behaviour. Such behaviour must be corrected. True homage to
the Buddha is paid by taking good care of all beings (Geshe Yeshe Tobden, 2005, pp. 171 – 2). As mentioned earlier, the second factor in Shantideva’s unconditional kindness is Buddha Nature. “Buddha Nature” is the English rendition of tathagatagarba, which means “Buddha Womb” or “Buddha Matrix.” As its original Sanskrit designation denotes, the womb of enlightenment is the intrinsic, eternal, universal perfection natural to all sentient beings (Sebastian, 2005, p. 3 – 4, 274). This is the true mind or “true self” of all beings,22 so at the most essential level, every individual is really a baby Buddha who simply needs the right conditions, motivations, and ability to cultivate Awakening. As a cornerstone teaching of Mahayana Buddhism, it is not a surprise that Shantideva emphasizes Buddha Nature so enthusiastically in his poem. His ambition is sweeping and leaves aside any hesitation or reservations about the universal scope of the spiritual path. Indeed, he rebukes those who conceive of enlightenment as too difficult an aspiration, maintaining that with effort, even “bees, flies, gnats and grubs” can attain the highest realization (WB, 7.17 – 18). Therefore, these basic teachings from Shantideva and the Mahayana tradition encapsulate his contribution to the unconditional dimension. Shantideva’s unconditional and radical acceptance rings strong resonances with the Christian tradition. Merton’s understanding of God’s relationship with our universe heavily influences his spiritual theology. For him, Christian unconditional kindness is a direct reflection of the unconditionally loving God, who cares for humanity without qualification. In the Book of Exodus, Moses asks who the flaming bush is, and God declares, beyond position and negation, “I am what I am” (Ex 3:14).23 For Merton, there is a distinct moral meaning in Yahweh’s reply. The being of God is not merely a notion of an absolute, a Supreme Being, or a manager. God is radically described as Love itself (Jn 4:8) and everything that such love entails, including healing, friendship, and intimacy. The Christian, through her encounter with God, realizes this love because in the Biblical
Buddha Nature does not represent a substantial self or ego (atman); rather, it is a positive expression of emptiness and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through spiritual practices. Therefore, the intention of the teaching of Buddha Nature is soteriological rather than theoretical. 23 Yahweh is also commanding Moses to discard all judging and questioning and experience the divine presence without any kind of discrimination.
conception, God is not known in God’s being except to those for whom God is God (Merton, 1968b, p. 266). God is God only for those whose lives God enters through love and the Holy Spirit’s grace and saving action. Even so, by his very nature, God does not distinguish between those worthy of love and those unworthy to be loved, because all are sinful. In Merton’s spiritual theology, God is infinite but is knowable as unconditionally loving. God is especially compassionate towards the needy and voiceless. While he has no favouritism and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), he does have a preferential option for the poor and downtrodden. This is evident in the Exodus narrative, in which Yahweh abhors the plight of the Hebrew slaves and promises to act on their behalf (Ex 3:7). In the New Testament, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount proclaims God’s favour for the weak and meek (Mt 5:3 – 11), while in the Bible as a whole, there is a pattern in which God works to bring every disadvantaged person to a new state of happiness and holiness, and elevate the poor and downtrodden to equality and dignity (Browning, 1996, p. 151). This theology of love and empathy, which allies itself with the most intimate concerns of the oppressed, will be revisited again in the chapter on deep empathy, because understanding the Other is the most important step to realistically healing the evil and injustice of the world (Merton, 1968b, p. 8 – 9). In the Christian understanding, God’s work to heal the afflicted and sanctify the forsaken culminates in Jesus. Jon Sobrino writes: “Jesus appears in the very midst of those who are positively despised by society and segregated from its life” (Sobrino, 2002, p. 47). During his ministry, Christ devoted himself to the tax collectors and the sinners, opposing the Pharisees who rebuked him for sitting at the same table with them (Mt 9:11). He replied that he did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners, to repentance (Mt 9:12 – 13, Lk 5:31 – 2). Above all, he revealed God’s love for those who were outcasts in various ways: the sick (who are helpless in themselves), the lepers (who are socially isolated), the Samaritan woman (a schismatic), and the Roman centurion (a foreigner). To the pious men of Jesus’ generation and culture, this was an outrageous subversion of what they believed about righteousness and who was worthy before God. In a modern context, Merton acknowledges that modern believers can be impeded by cultural structures and assumptions. This can limit their scope for inner growth and blind them to
what should be most obvious or accessible about the divine nature. Jesus’ distinct examples of unqualified care provide universal examples for Christians to follow in their daily lives. Agapic love is universal because God’s love is universal (agape comes from God). No one with whom a concrete relation is technically possible (one’s neighbour) can be excluded. In Merton’s spiritual theology, God’s central act of unconditional kindness is the charity of the Cross and Jesus’ Resurrection. Every human being that has ever existed and will ever exist is the result of God’s creation and the subject of God’s redemption. As I highlighted in the introductory chapter, to live by Christ’s love is what determines the identity of a Christian. It is “the value that determines all the actions of a Christian… the Christian lives by love, and therefore by freedom” (Merton, 1976, p. 129). In a language that is poetically similar to Shantideva’s verses on Buddha Nature, Merton hopes to recapture and intensify the “Christian sense which sees every other man as Christ and treats him as Christ” (Merton, 1968b, p. 143). Christ initiated the climate of the new Creation, which is the climate of mercy. But this mercy depends on the realization that all people are acceptable before God due to the grace of the Incarnation. This is the doctrine of justification: because of what Christ has done in his crucifixion and resurrection, all are right with God. Therefore, all that is necessary for a human to be acceptable before God is simply to be a human and a sinner (Mt 9:13, Rms 5:8). It follows that whoever is acceptable to God should be acceptable to individual men and women, and this is the test of faith and of Christian obedience to God (Jn 15:12, 17; 12:34 – 35). Human beings are not entitled to be more demanding than God. Continuing on from Christ’s redeeming act of the Cross, nothing more is required for a person to be acceptable to the Christian except that he or she needs mercy and love (although, once again, a distinction must be maintained between accepting a sinning individual unconditionally and rejecting certain offences as unacceptable). Merton pushes for this argument with his interpretation of the Christian scriptures. An individual does not need to be a certain type of person who belongs to a particular race, class, or religious customs (Gal 5:6). Observing the hostile attitude of many Americans
towards different people and even different denominations of Christianity, Merton notes rather dryly: “Least of all is required that he be exactly like ourselves, friendly towards us, and disposed to flatter us with a privileged consideration of our person and our ideas.” He further contends that the assertion of our own justice over our neighbour destroys God’s climate of mercy because in our assertion is an implicit demand to judge and evaluate others. Instead of choosing, approving, and offering himself to God, which is an attempt to deny his sinfulness, Merton argues that it is God who asks him to forget his unworthiness and that of his fellow human beings. To refuse this is not only to choose himself, but also to decide against others in favour of himself (Merton, 1989a, p. 174). He sees this as a grave danger to spiritual maturity and expresses his warning thus:
If I set myself up inexorably as a law to my brother, then I cannot help trying to interfere with his life by occult violence, malice, and deceit. I set myself up as a potential power to which I demand some form, be it only symbolic, of homage and submission.” I set myself up, in particular, as a virtuous example which define and identifies my brother’s sin – for that in which he differs from me becomes at once “sin.” Note what I do in this: I arrogate to myself a right to make him a sinner (Merton, 1985, p. 212 – 215).
Merton’s negative description of agape (as to what a loving person should not do) is articulated particularly well here. In contrast, the positive description of agape’s action is to act intentionally and promote overall well-being or the “abundant life” that Jesus referred to (Oord, 2008, p. 136). God loves ceaselessly, and by virtue of divine omnipresence and omniscience loves everything and everyone (Oord, 2008, p. 144). In the same way, Merton argues that the Christian participates in an unchanging nature of love from God, which also accepts all creatures as worthy of divine grace. This is his perspective of unqualified care, which (with Shantideva’s contributions) completes this rubric of unconditional kindness. Merton’s theology of agape will be revisited in the dimensions of positive ethics and deep empathy, because it also forms the core of his rapport with Shantideva’s compassion in those rubrics. With the dimension of unconditional kindness in mind, it is ideal at this juncture to move on to the second moral dimension of positive ethics. A life of 40
unconditional love unimpeded by human contingency and driven by transcendent power is an exemplary and beautiful life indeed. But it cannot be authentically realized without an open vision of self-aware, mindful practice. Unconditional kindness requires a positive approach that, like Conze’s expression of the Buddha’s compassion, can refract the situations, inclinations, and circumstances of every being and bring benefit to them appropriately. Here, the more subtle extremes of ethical endeavour are overcome, such as moralism and excessive attachment to ethical rules. The first rubric of unconditional kindness therefore gives rise to the rubric of positive ethics, which is one that strengthens agape and karuna with compassionate and perceptive insight. We now turn to this next stage in the dialogue between Merton and Shantideva.
CHAPTER 3: POSITIVE ETHICS Positive ethics is the rubric I have chosen to indicate an open vision of moral practice that respects the complexities of individuals’ psychological and social situations. This dimension has twofold significance. On a basic level, it aims to transcend moralism, an attitude typified by excessive attachments to ethical models and viewpoints. As a result, moralistic people can elevate minor moral matters into extreme concerns, morph principles of the good into oppressive forms of pietism, and misconstrue the role of ethics in the spiritual life. Positive ethics represents Merton and Shantideva’s effort to break free from the cognitive grasping that characterizes judgemental and narrow spiritualities. This is achieved through the practice of agape and karuna. On a deeper level, positive ethics allows Merton and Shantideva to participate in the life of love and compassion without any kind of artificial or misguided inhibition. By protecting morality from moralism and conformism, it helps the religious disciple to attain freedom, purity and authenticity without fleeing from moral involvement (Ives, 1992, p. 49). By abandoning closed and oppressive stances, there is no longer any unnecessary obstacle to ethical practice. Our growth as spiritual agents will be unconstrained, and our exercise of religious morality will become more genuine. Several themes in this chapter will be addressed. Firstly, I will give a comprehensive explanation of positive ethics and its twofold importance before expanding on Shantideva’s teachings on morality as taught in the Madhyamaka tradition. Afterwards, I shall examine Merton’s later ideas about Christian morality, his affinity with Zen Buddhism, and his attempts to expand religious practice beyond a system of pious and ethical observance. Together, these ideas form the totality of the masters’ second rubric. The transcending of cognitive attachments does not mean that Merton and Shantideva end up believing in the same system of ethics. That is a misunderstanding of their intentions, since they are attempting to appreciate the diverse complexities in ethical thought. It must also be recognized that by teaching agape and karuna as the ultimate call of morality, Merton and Shantideva open up many potential ethical discussions
beyond the scope of this thesis. Overarching religious principles, no matter how important, may not always provide comprehensive answers to difficult situations that demand ethical responses. At another extreme, they can even be exploited to justify inappropriate choices based on irrational convictions that one is acting lovingly or compassionately. Like unconditional kindness, positive ethics does not denote a laissezfaire approach to morality, otherwise it would lose its purpose and meaning as a moral dimension. This rubric does not involve the rejection of morality or absolute dissolution of the distinction between good and evil. Moral philosophers therefore warn against oversimplification of ethical decisions, and Merton also cautions against it: “Freedom does not operate in a void. It is guided… by the light of intelligence… It should not be simply an arbitrary exercise of choice. Blind affirmation of will is irrational and tends to destroy freedom [my italics]” (Merton, 1964, p. 99). Furthermore, despite Jesus’ liberating agape, there has existed a long-standing debate in Christianity about the relationship of the law that he came to fulfill and the loving grace that simultaneously freed his disciples from the law. Two crucial questions are these: What defines freedom over against the oppressive strictures of moralism and pious constraints? And, what role do practical ethical systems play in the light of grace? Merton affirmed that a love of God and humanity could not exist without a strict obedience to the commandments (Merton, 1976, p. 128),24 and many contemporary theologians acknowledge the necessity of a specific ethical system for the Christian vocation. For example, in his book A Fundamental Practical Theology, Browning confirms the necessity of theological ethics due to its central role in formulating a theory of God’s moral seriousness and its implications for human moral obligations (Browning, 1996, p. 96 – 7). He insists that proclamations for grace and forgiveness must be supplemented by the discernment of a Christian’s practical obligations (Browning, 1996, pp. 97). He notes that the central task of worship may be the re-enactment of the goodness, moral seriousness and love from God through Jesus, but without the formal categories that guide ethical description and criteria, Christian liturgical gratitude may be vacuous or misleading (Browning, 1996, p.
The commandments are given for the sake of a basic sense of coherence in the human individual and a society. There must be a limit where human weakness is protected against itself by a categorical command (“Thou shalt not.”). But this does not answer the complex but necessary questions that have been raised in theological ethics.
97). To avoid this vacuity of divine meaning, Browning maintains that a coherent ethical structure must be delineated for the Christian life (Browning, 1996, p. 151). This thesis can acknowledge these important principles in theological ethics, but it cannot do justice to its many nuances. My paper also cannot devote itself to exhaustively analysing models for Buddhist ethical action, despite Clayton’s very helpful study of Shantideva’s thought as a supererogatory virtue ethic (Clayton, 2006, p. 101). Complexities arise for this categorization of Shantideva’s moral thinking because Buddhism has always allowed for exceptional cases that might, in theory, violate established moral codes or conventions:
The perfections, giving and the rest, / Progress in sequence, growing in importance. / The great should never be abandoned for the less, / And others’ good should be regarded as supreme. / Therefore understand this well, / And always labor for the benefit of beings. / The Compassionate One farsightedly permits, / To this end, even what has been proscribed [my italics] (WB, 5. 83 – 4).
By respecting individuals’ different situations, Shantideva’s morality is accommodated within the Great Vehicle as a system of virtue but not defined in any confined or conclusive sense. Additionally, some issues pertinent to the contemporary period or horizon are only hinted at or not addressed completely in his work, and in this respect The Way of the Bodhisattva will require interpretation. It is at this point that my horizon as a Buddhist man will become apparent. But to fully investigate the relationship between Shantideva and recent developments in Mahayana scholarship is also beyond the dialogical scope of this thesis. The two masters are not dismissing systematic ethics. However, as mentioned earlier, they are warning against the inclination to morph everyday forms of knowledge, ethical models, and teachings into extreme forms of moralism, pietism, or other narrow visions. The reliance on and attachment to moralism is no doubt grounded in a desire to promote the good. But this actually leads to negative, oppressive and harmful actions and mental defilements, because of incorrect conclusions about what reality is supposed to be 44
(Sebastian, 2005, p. 75). Moralism suffers from several major pitfalls. The first of these is that minor moral matters become elevated to ultimate moral concerns. A moralist may condemn a woman who wears revealing clothes, or label a man who enjoys occasional alcohol as a sinner. The moralist has difficulty understanding that the ethical failings he or she perceives in others are actually morally irrelevant, such as the decision to consume alcohol before an evening meal. This may lead to judgemental and punitive treatment against those who they see as violating absolute moral standards. And perhaps most detrimentally, moralism can deceive one into focusing on relatively minor ethical values whilst ignoring much more important dictates of conscience. The preoccupation with conventional piety can be distorted into a crusade for social conformism amongst a community, which can lead to ignorance, indifference, or apathy about urgent and devastating issues that demand a personal, decisive response. An example would be a religious group that ostracizes a congregation member’s homosexual child while passively condoning arms dealers who supply weapons to the factions of a lucrative war. An overreaction to sex before marriage or to homosexual relationships can override the concern for human welfare in developing nations or the abuse of civilians by powerful militaries. A moralist may also be preoccupied with cursing and swear words, and inflate them into deliberate blasphemy. Of course, blasphemy is an extremely serious offence and in Christianity, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is seen as the one unforgivable sin (Lk 12:10). One of the five grave offences in Buddhism is to slander, insult, and abuse the Dharma.25 It is also true that cursing is often tasteless and impolite. But the crucial distinction is this: spontaneous curses and swearing are more often due to social and linguistic conditioning rather than intentional, malicious disrespect for religious figures. A lack of verbal discipline does not imply a sacrilegious malice that deserves condemnation. Therefore, from the perspective of positive ethics, a moralist’s disproportionate reaction against this minor behaviour is unsound. In any case, Merton observes that the reactive and pietistic behaviour of some American believers (Merton, 1980, p. 206) is already enough to border on blasphemy (Merton, 1989a, p. 44, 175).
The other four grave offences are patricide, matricide, killing an arhat or saint, and spilling the blood of a Buddha.
Shantideva also notes that to be religiously pious but rail against harsh words directed at the Buddha or other holy beings is simply hypocritical. The Buddha will not be affected by offenses of these kinds in the least (WB, 6. 64, Geshe Yeshe Tobden, 2005, p. 161). The examples listed above are only several of the common problems associated with moralism. They belong to the sphere of social disapproval and censure. In its most damaging form, people occupied with moralism may even force others to comply with their preferences through legal control or political lobbying (Grayling, 2002, p. 3). But even without such coercive manifestations, Merton’s general idea is that external observance of rules alone becomes oppressive and constraining if a disciple remains untouched by Christ’s love and a higher level of thinking and action (Merton, 1980, p.176). He warns that the consequences of ignoring this can be serious: those who seek to learn from spiritual teachers will only be able to listen to the words and not the evidence of thought and love behind those words (Merton, 1968b, p. 57). And aside from hollow and repressive spirituality, moralistic thought often suffers from several of the following harmful traits: insensitivity, intolerance, lack of imagination, ignorance of different needs in human experience, and arrogance in believing that one’s own means are the only acceptable means (Grayling, 2002, p. 3). Without positive ethics, religion can even become unhelpful, characterized by condemnation, pettiness, and immature apathy to the world’s greater problems. Positive ethics is vital for the development of a transcendent vision that is non-judgemental and freely open to the circumstances, interests and sufferings of those one seeks to communicate with and understand. Both masters aim to move beyond the spiritual afflictions of moralism. In the context of the moral dimensions, positive ethics brings them together in the transcendent unity of agape and karuna. This rubric helps to develop the intellectual courage, fortitude and openness that supplement the teachings of Buddhism and Christianity, which in turn lead to “inner transformation, a deepening of consciousness toward an eventual breakthrough and discovery of a transcendent dimension of life beyond that of the ordinary empirical self and of ethical and pious observance” (Merton, 1974, pp. 309 – 310). In these circumstances, moral awareness becomes so acute that it is remembered as one’s innermost, deepest nature.
For Merton, what is at stake is the unbalanced concentration on relatively minor problems in religion, and a refusal to address the questions and issues that compromise the survival of humanity itself (Merton, 1968b, p. 56). For him, intellectualism and moralism has led conventional religion to busy itself with relative trifles such as details of ritual, organization, bureaucracy, the niceties of law and ascetical psychology at the expense of building an order in which an individual can return to himself or herself and regain his or her supernatural health (Merton, 1968b, p. 56). Those who advocate such an unhelpful approach seem to be more concerned with proving themselves right as opposed to discovering and satisfying the spiritual hunger of their fellow beings. The world does not need, nor does it want, religious politics that are “devoid of genuine human and spiritual concern, interested only in preparing the way for peremptory doctrinal and moral demands” (Merton, 1968b, p. 57). This is the most serious problem that necessitates the rubric of positive ethics: the problem of intellectual and moral narrowness. As an Indian Buddhist sage meditating on compassion, Shantideva is also uniquely placed to dismantle all mental barriers to great karuna (maha-karuna) through his Madhyamaka tradition, the school of the Middle Way that was founded by Nagarjuna, one of the foremost Mahayana patriarchs. This is a harmonious aspect of the two masters’ shared moral thinking. Breaking free from unwholesome attachments to moralism brings Merton and Shantideva to the deeper, indwelling motivations of unconditional love and compassion, of agape and karuna. Previously, I explained the various pitfalls with moralism. One of these is that minor social concerns, usually matters of taste or opinion, become conflated to ultimate moral truths. This is the common danger that the masters strive to transcend. The Mahayana tradition goes further in its polemic against ultimate truth and what is perceived as such. Since its inception, it has taught of two basic forms of truth: the relative and the ultimate. The Buddha does not forsake conventional truth, for most sentient beings find it too difficult to reach the ultimate directly. But it is crucial to discern between the two: “Relative and ultimate, / These the two truths are declared to be. The ultimate is not
within the reach of intellect, / For intellect is said to be the relative” (WB, 9.2). Only prajna (the perfection of insight) can penetrate into ultimate knowledge. Regardless of how useful conventional knowledge and insight is, if the intellect remains only at this lower level, it will always be condemned to one-sidedness and a specific viewpoint (WB, 2006, p. 23). At its most basic level and in a way that is essentially mystical, Mahayana Buddhism teaches that the inconceivable Buddha is as Buddha is – immune from capture by words and statements alone. Hence the Buddha used the mysterious self-reference, Tathagata. The title is translated as the “Thus Come One” or the “Thus Gone One,” and such difficult placements around the word “thus” (tatha) present an enigmatic, yet peculiarly straightforward meaning for the translator. Reflecting this self-reference of its founder, Buddhism teaches that any human statement claiming to encapsulate the ultimate truth, or any formulation that points to “this” or “that” as ultimately and exclusively true is false. It is false for the reason that it is a formulation constructed by conceptual intelligence (WB, 2006, p. 21). Put in starker terms, every category of thought is infected with relativity, and therefore, void of reality (nissvabhava) (Sebastian, 2005, p. 8). However, this evaluation of the conventional intellect does not exclude the discriminating mind’s usefulness. The hermeneutic doctrine of skilful means, or upaya, asserts that the Buddha teaches according to the diverse emotional, intellectual and spiritual dispositions of sentient beings. Therefore, on the conventional level, languages and other mundane forms of expression are in fact quite useful, especially if they can eloquently express and systemize Buddhist truths. Skilful means extends to other traditions of thought and religions, providing Buddhism with an in-built apparatus of ecumenism and tolerance. It was first developed to harmonize the diverse corpus of Mahayana and Theravada scriptures. The pedagogical genius of the Mahayana therefore lies in its accommodating gift – a system of truth that respects the psychological complexities, inclinations, and capabilities of every individual. The Great Vehicle’s reservation of attempts to encapsulate truth in narrow ways ran consistently throughout its early sutras. Centuries later, Shantideva would adopt this nondualistic approach to spiritual practice by positing this epistemological argument: “When something and its nonexistence / Both are absent from before the mind, / No other option
does the latter have: / It comes to perfect rest, from concepts free” (9.34) – including moralism and any corresponding attachments. This “freedom from concepts” has a scriptural basis in the Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra, one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. In it, the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, teaches the primacy of prajna as a means to free his disciple, Shariputra, from all worldly clinging and attachment (Hua, 1980, p. 1). Despite the fact that Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of cosmic compassion, he intentionally places a greater emphasis on insight. He argues for the intuitive, penetrative realization of all entities (singular: dharma without a capital D) as they are, free from our intellectual projection. The great being even posits that Buddhist ideas such as ignorance and the ending of ignorance can become conceptual attachments with distorted, moralistic consequences.26 The unspeakable Nirvana is the transcendence of even these postulations. Avalokiteshvara’s teachings about prajna indicate great significance in regards to the moral association with the open-ended, intellectual matrix of positive ethics. This is why it is a moral dimension as well as a rubric of astute wisdom. Upasaka Kuo-jung expands on the wisdom of the immensely difficult Heart Sutra and writes that intuitive wisdom transcends all the dialectics and analytical processes of reasoning, which are characteristics of the discriminating and intellectualizing mind. Prajna goes beyond the world of the senses and intellect, which cannot help but be characterized by dualism: “It is by prajna that everything phenomenal and noumenal is observed from the standpoint of its totality, thus acquiring a new meaning” (Hua, 1980, p. xi – xii). This meaning is correspondingly the meaning of the bodhisattva’s compassionate, moral work in the universe. As already highlighted, Shantideva hailed from the Madhyamaka tradition, a school that owed loyalty to the bodhisattva ideal like any other Mahayana following. Madhyamaka is primarily a system or method of philosophical criticism, and its fundamental tenets
“Shariputra, all dharmas are empty of characteristics. They are not produced. Not destroyed, not defiled, not pure, and they neither increase nor diminish. Therefore, in emptiness there is no… ignorance or ending of ignorance… no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, no way, and no understanding and no attaining. / Because nothing is attained, the bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana!” (Hua, 1980, p.1)
resemble the younger Ch’an or Zen school27 in several important respects. The closest similarity between them is the endeavour to shatter the attachment to conceptual knowledge and morality, which is in fact an immensely important task for the bodhisattva to undertake. Specifically, the Prasangika branch of the Madhyamaka (the subset to which Shantideva belonged) asserts the suprarational nature of ultimate truth and rejects all clinging to any kinds of views:
… All statements, all theories, anything emerging from the operations of the rational intelligence, have the nature of relative truth, Theories may be of practical utility and may concur with empirical experience, but as expressions of the ultimate truth, the “nature of things,” they are inadequate. The ultimate is suprarational and cannot be expressed in conceptual terms… But to say that the “ultimate is not within the reach of the intellect” does not mean that it cannot be known; it means simply that it exceeds the power of ordinary thought and verbal expression. It is prajna: immediate, intuitive insight into “suchness,” the wisdom of emptiness beyond subject and object (WB, 2006, p. 21 – 2).
In the context of positive ethics, the theories I am addressing refer to those developed to frame and determine moral actions. As clarified earlier, the vigilance against cognitive attachments to such concepts does not result in an amoral philosophical path. It is the opposite. It is the culmination of the spiritual and moral life because of the implications that follow on from the earliest Mahayana teachings. For if Shantideva’s position is accepted as a valid model for a spiritual path, the ills and distortions of religion, such as dogmatism, self-doubt, and confusion are necessarily discarded. All concepts are a raft by which to cross the shore of liberation, and there is no need to cling to conceptualizations. In other words, positive ethics is the specific antidote to psychological and spiritual questing, bringing the mind to repose under tranquility. Because of this tranquility, the disciple of the Buddha ascends to the state of a bodhisattva: one who can expressly remain in the world to help sentient beings, for as long as suffering persists in the universe. The bodhisattva’s ever-returning life and career are directed by their intuition of prajna, of transcendental wisdom, and therefore by the knowledge that there is absolutely
Zen is generally thought to have been inspired by various currents in Mahāyāna Buddhist thought, such as the Yogācāra and Madhyamaka philosophies and the Prajñāpāramitā literature. It also developed out of local traditions in China, particularly Taoism and Hua-Yen Buddhism.
no difference between Nirvana (enlightenment) and samsara (the unenlightened multiverse of suffering). The defining vision of a Mahayana Buddhist is therefore this: that a bodhisattva does not abandon any realm of sense-desire and actively stays within them for the sake of succouring and liberating others, life after life. They are able to remain in the phenomenal universe and the world-systems, yet remain unaffected because they are motivated solely by maha-karuna, great compassion. They are grounded in sublime, altruistic thoughts and the foundation of their path and endeavours is perfectly pure (Sebastian, 2005, p. 109). Therefore, as positive ethics is attained, the highest expression of moral conduct is becomes evident in the calling of a bodhisattva. Centuries later, Merton would encounter the philosophy of the Madhyamaka (Furlong, 1980, p. 326) and find a close affinity with it, which supplemented his dialogue with Zen. This almost karmic or providential contact in such a contrasting and unlikely time period provides the historical basis for agape and karuna’s encounter in the dimension of positive ethics. There are striking similarities between Shantideva’s conception of the transcendent moral life and Merton’s later writing on authenticity and the Christian vocation. In New Seeds of Contemplation, which is a revised edition of his earlier work Seeds of Contemplation, he intuited that a traditional discipline such as Christian theology was not only an intellectual exercise, although clarity, distinctness and accuracy is necessary to express the simple experience of God. Essentially, theology gives conceptual and verbal expression to the Catholic tradition (Merton, 1972, p. 149). But beyond the labour of argument and the medium of created concepts or languages, Merton believed that theology would not truly begin to be theology until it ceased to be a body of abstractions and transcended the separate concepts of theologians (Merton, 1972, p. 148). His greatest affinity with the Buddhist tradition therefore, lay with the Zen school, which helped him to articulate his Catholic faith in a way that would supplement the development of his world-affirming, positive ethics. Positive ethics did not merely indicate an ecumenical endeavour. For Merton, it was also a profoundly mature, moral search for the divine on an intensely personal level. Ultimately, the transcendent could not be grasped even by formulations or words. And in this segment of his Asian journal, conventional assumptions about the simple nature of “good and evil” are transcended
with words such as “limitlessness,” “lack of inhibition,” “fullness,” “creativity,” and most importantly, “freedom,” indicating a moral dimension that can be described as one that leads not only to ethical completeness, but psychic wholeness and spiritual responsibility as well:
In other words, we begin to divine that Zen is not only beyond the formulations of Buddhism but it is also in a certain way “beyond” (and even pointed to by) the revealed message of Christianity. That is to say that when one breaks through the limits of cultural and structural religion – or irreligion – one is liable to end up, by “birth in the Spirit,” or just by intellectual awakening, in a simple void where all is liberty because all is the actionless action, called by the Chinese Wu-wei and by the New Testament the “freedom of the Sons of God.” Not that they are theologically one and the same, but they have at any rate the same kind of limitlessness, the same lack of inhibition, the same psychic fullness of creativity, which mark the fully integrated maturity of the ‘enlightened self’ (Merton, 1968a, p. 8).
Here, Merton seems to believe that the Buddhist and Christian notions of freedom are experientially similar. Psychological liberty and fullness of creativity are certainly hallmarks of authentic spirituality. But even though he acknowledges that the revelation of Christianity can point to the formulation-less Zen, he retains a theological understanding of what it means to be free: the morality of love is not specified by laws but by free individuals experiencing the grace of God (Merton, 1976, p. 128). But this is not a condoning of literal lawlessness. St. Paul, who was the first to develop this concept in detail, acknowledges in his epistles that while the Christian is freed from the obligations of law by grace, it does not mean that the Christian can sin as she pleases (Rms 6:15). Freedom is conceived of in a special way: it is freedom through a paradoxical “slavery to righteousness” (Rms 6:18) and devotion to God, guided by the Holy Spirit (Rms 8:13 – 17). This freedom indicates that the children of God are not permitted to do whatever they please simply because they are under grace. They are born into a new life under commitment to Christ. Sin is not erased in the hearts of people, but sin is mitigated until the coming kingdom of God (Browning, 1996, p. 148). It is, unfortunately, beyond the capabilities of my thesis to address these ideas fully.
It is also impossible to do justice to Merton’s understanding of wu-wei or “non-action,” which is only an implicit concept in Shantideva’s work. Wu-wei is a Taoist term that denotes moderated action without artificiality, which is in harmony with the natural Way of nature and virtue (Fung, 1976, p. 100 – 1). For the sage, freedom is not found in “not doing anything,” despite wu-wei’s literal meaning. That would be an apathetic and immoral approach to the world. A more accurate interpretation would be that the wisdom of the Way leads to virtuous conduct, without the need to strive restlessly for accomplishments that inflate an individual’s attachment to artificial trifles and proprieties. In Chinese thought, the oneness with naturalness and accord with the universal Way enjoys affinities with the Zen tradition, which stresses, in line with Madhyamaka, the importance of penetrative insight or transcendent wisdom. In bringing “freedom of the Sons of God” and wu-wei together, Merton indicates that freedom means not a freedom from doing ethical things, but a freedom of the moral heart. Merton also acknowledges that the “mind of Christ” is theologically worlds apart from the “mind of the Buddha”. However, this is not his main point, nor is it too serious a concern. Rather, it is enough for Merton to contend that “the utter self-emptying of Christ – and the self-emptying which makes the disciple one with Christ and His kenosis – can be understood and has been understood in a very Zen-like sense as far as psychology and experience are concerned” (Merton, 1968a, p. 8). For him, there was a portion of Zen infused in many forms of creative and spiritual experience because it was occupied with the “unself-consciousness:” the higher consciousness that realizes that the ego is a cramp of personality that is unwisely perceived as the personality itself (Furton, 1980, p. 266). Therefore, thanks to his fascination with Christian mystics as well as Buddhist thought, Merton became extremely open to this idea of pure, unimpeded spirituality. He embodied the idea of mystical openness and positive ethics when he made his pilgrimage to Asia, where he would tragically die from accidental electrocution. Furlong observes, with a touch of irony:
Some Christian observers have seemed to take offense at this [Merton’s desire to find
something in Asia], as if Merton might only be permitted to drink truth from a Christian source and as if all other springs might be contaminated, like the spring behind the hermitage. But Merton never thought or wrote of ceasing to be a Christian. Christianity was, quite simply, his language, and could no more be renounced than any native tongue; but this did not mean that other languages might not be loved and yield striking new insights in the old familiar phrases and ideas (Furlong, 1980, p. 339).
Therefore, striking parallels between his experiences and Mahayanist skilful means can be demonstrated. While concepts, expressions, and conventions are useful as tools, they should not be a source of attachment; otherwise such things can metamorphose into idols even though they were only intended to be convenient or helpful means. He begins his argument with the idea that traditional contemplative wisdom prescribes disciplines (in the deepest sense of “discipleships”) to help humanity transcend intellectual restlessness and find the “true self” in a completely “awake” emptiness (Merton, 1968b, pp. 113 – 4). But there are distinctly moral dangers in this ambitious endeavour, because not all approaches to the spiritual path are necessarily equal in moral progress. Like Shantideva’s teachings on the bodhisattva’s practice, Merton insists that authentic spiritualities must approach the world’s problems positively and charitably. Because it avoids moralism and conformism, positive ethics still aims at “transcendence” while remaining distinctly moral. Merton matches his Madhyamaka counterpart’s unique challenge by making a strong case against any sense of superiority on part of those striving to be moral. Merton warns that individuals can become prejudiced and arrogant if the non-discriminating vitality of religious practice dies: “If you call one thing vile and another precious, if you praise success and blame failure, you will fill the world with thieves, soldiers, and businessmen” (Merton, 1989a, p. 166). In Catholic moral teaching, he essentially argues for a re-evaluation of ethics as it is conventionally conceived. In one of his most straightforward arguments, he proposes that ethics cannot be “limited” by conveniently compartmentalized categories of right and wrong.
Is Christian ethics merely a specific set of Christian answers to the question of good and evil, right and wrong? To make it no more than this is to forget that man’s fall was a fall into the knowledge of good and evil, reinforced by the inexorable knowledge of a
condemning law… To imprison ethics in the realm of division, of good and evil, right and wrong, is to condemn it to sterility, and rob it of its real reason for existing, which is love. Love cannot be reduced to one virtue among many others prescribed by ethical imperatives. When love is only “a virtue” among many, man forgets that “God is love” and becomes incapable of that all-embracing love by which we secretly begin to know God as our Creator and Redeemer – who has saved us from the limitations of a purely restrictive and aimless existence “under a law” (Merton, 1989a, p. 166).
The passage above undercuts the very specific dangers he sees in a moralistic, limited approach. At its most basic level, it (sometimes unwittingly) dispenses with the transcendent dimension that addresses life’s fundamental existential alienation, which is identified as sin in the Christian tradition and samsara in the Buddhist one. It is this affliction that is the causal source of suffering, ignorance, and acts of evil. The resolution, one that is held in common by all the “higher” or “mystical” religions, is one that sees the human as a self-transcending being and helps her to achieve such self-transcendence. No achievement that is limited to humankind alone can truly fulfil humanity’s inner capacities, no matter how productive and good they are.28 Such limits can only be addressed by something that is limitless in nature. In this context, he has in mind the spiritual ideas of love and freedom, influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. Merton has already qualified his opinion on the importance of love with the recognition that freedom cannot operate in a moral vacuum (Merton, 1964, p. 99). But as long as humans act only as members of their species and within their limits, they will still be subject to the deepest and most radical form of spiritual alienation because they are individuals subservient to the “inescapable finalities” of their common nature. For Merton, the individual is not fully “free” because he is unable to “transcend his specific individuality and function on the level of a spiritual person with all the perfection and autonomy implied by that concept” (Merton, 1968b, p. 111). Merton frequently related modern Zen Buddhism with what he saw as the cultivation of a
Merton compassionately notes that not even the love that preserves and propagates the species (a sexual relationship that is psychologically mature and rewarding) can be said to be the ultimate good. It is undoubtedly a wonder, but neither is it true transcendence (Merton, 1968, p. 111).
pure consciousness that could break free from such inescapable finalities. This meant a moral dimension that was positive and sympathetic to the conditions of every individual. He quotes from Zenkei Shibayama on the egolessness and “mindlessness” of a Zen mirror, which reflects beauty as it is and ugliness as it is (Shibayama, 1967, p. 28) – nothing more and nothing less. The pure consciousness does not try to fit things into artificial structures based on human contingency, for such structures rest only at the conventional level and fail to ascend to the ultimate. It does not judge morality according to the criteria of pietism or moralism – for such things are really morally minor. And if it seems to judge or distinguish, it does so only enough to point beyond judgement. Merton claims this window to Zen is present in the teachings of the Gospel and in Jesus’ famous teaching on judging others. In fact, according to Merton, “only when this Zen dimension is grasped will the moral bearing of it [the teaching] be fully clear!” (Merton, 1968a, pp. 6 – 7):
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Mt 7: 1 – 4).
If we are to agree with such an interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, then the transcendent dimension of positive ethics must be free from the reliance on moralism, so that what one perceives as reality does not contradict the actual nature of things and generate negative thoughts, which lead to negative speech and actions. The consequences of these negative thoughts, speech, and actions can be extremely grave: in his writing, Merton warns that “organizational jollity, moral legalism, and nuclear crusading” (the shortcomings that he perceives in American Christianity) will never pass as serious religion (Merton, 1968b, p. 117). Coercive and “crusading” ways of thinking can reduce the ethics of religion into moral pettiness and small-mindedness. He summarizes his insights in a rather severe and damning passage:
The religious mind today is seldom pertinently or prophetically critical. Oh, it is critical
all right; but too often of the wrong or irrelevant issues. There is still such a thing as straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Merton, 1968b, p. 117).
Here, Merton is concerned that legalistic and moralistic criticisms of society are trivial compared to the central issues that religion is supposed to answer, such as alienation from a higher power and between human beings, cultivating love and compassion, and bringing good out of evil. Although he and other Christian writers know that practical ethical systems have their place, freedom and autonomy can never be found in an exclusively legalist emphasis on the law. A lack of attention to the simple, unconditional agape of God can breed more doubt than faith. In the knowledge of mere “good and evil” humanity still will not understand itself in the transcendent destiny appointed for him, but rather in its own possibilities and its potential towards good or evil. Merton warns that a neglect of this fundamental insight for the sake of “avoiding sin,” in being good and “doing one’s duty” makes belief difficult and faith into a mental and spiritual problem, completely dependent on particular ethical achievements observable to others (Merton, 1989a, p. 167). Essentially, one seeks to prove oneself to others as opposed to serving God, because one believes out of others telling him or her to believe, not out of a lifegiving aspiration to know the living God. And at worst, Merton follows in Shantideva’s footsteps and warns that attachment to these misunderstandings and false perceptions can lead to harmful and destructive actions. In a striking passage of self-awareness, he writes: “Gandhi once asked: ‘How can he who thinks he possesses absolute truth be fraternal?’ Let us be frank about it: the history of Christianity raises this question again and again” (Merton, 1989a, p. 44). He is not declaring that yardsticks of right and wrong or good and evil are false or useless. He is arguing that such laws, in themselves, cannot be relied on as conclusive benchmarks for the spiritual life because as they are inevitably limited as human constructions. Returning to his idea of the person, he argues: “Christianity is not a religion of a law but a religion of a person” (Merton, 1976, p. 129). His notion of this religious authenticity is based on the awareness that there is no true love if life is not oriented to something beyond and above “the level of mere empirical individuality” (Merton, 1968b, p. 112). If we are to know the good, compassion and love of the transcendent, then our conventional, mundane levels of thinking should not be seen as
absolute. Here it is possible to compare the positive ethics of Merton’s agape with the non-discrimination of Shantideva’s karuna (WB, 2006, p. 7). They are, as already observed in the dimension of unconditional kindness, a subversion of what is simply taken for granted to be true, when it is actually based on conventions and socially accepted trends. Yet such trends can be simultaneously unacceptable, and the Nazi regime and the Vietnam War have demonstrated this. A cultured and religious nation can fall prey to conspiracies of genocide, and a military power can scheme to pulverize an entire people for the sake of defending against a rival ideology like Communism. Conformism can therefore be dehumanizing and harmful to a moral agent’s calling. Merton and Shantideva are both pointing to a new vision of morality ultimately grounded not in conditioned and ever-changing concepts of right and wrong, but in agape and karuna. Instead of constantly dividing and alienating the universe into conformist compartments, they are focusing on the moral predicaments of the world as they affect our fellow human and sentient beings. Merton appreciated its endeavour to discard a “position” of any conventional sort, and this rejection of “choosing sides” is evident in his writing. Merton’s expression of Christian ethics and Shantideva’s realization of open, compassionate morality strike resonant chords in the specific practices of self-emptying, self-exchanging and the deep empathy that follows on from positive ethics (a distinct, separate dimension in itself). In this dimension we shall examine how unconditional kindness and positive ethics are applied more practically. Such applications encompass all forms of relation to others, but particularly the endeavour to understand the “Other.” It shall be Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna that provide the stepping-stones into understanding this Other.
CHAPTER 4: DEEP EMPATHY Up to this point in the dialogue between Merton and Shantideva, I have examined their approach to unconditional kindness through the fundamentals of non-attachment and unqualified care. In the previous chapter, I demonstrated that the masters emphasize positive ethics for an open-minded vision of spirituality, so that the complexities of individuals’ histories and contexts can be treated compassionately. In this final chapter I identify the last major rubric linking their thought to be deep empathy. It is the dimension of understanding the Other and identifying with her suffering. It includes unconditional kindness and positive ethics within its scope, but once it has acquired the premises of the previous two rubrics, it changes its emphasis and attempts to enter into empathetic communion with others in a direct and firsthand way. In this sense, it forms the more immediate moral dimension between Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna. In a similar way to how non-attachment and unqualified care constitute unconditional kindness, there are two windows through which deep empathy can be examined. The first window is Merton’s theology of love and empathy, and the second consists of Shantideva’s teachings on the mind and the exchange of self and other. We will revisit Merton’s interpretations of Christ’s healing work that was highlighted in the chapter about unconditional kindness. In the context of deep empathy, he addresses the spiritual problems of contemporary America and how its profound lack of empathy is blinding modern society to its own kairos, to what God demands of Christians in the light of Jesus’ work and resurrection. To gain a greater understanding of how such empathy can be actualized, I will examine Shantideva’s teachings on the mind and his meditative practice of exchanging himself with another being (particularly with one less fortunate than he) to become more sympathetic to the latter’s situation. Brought together, the ideas in these two windows highlight the importance of dignifying and deeply appreciating the Other in the light of unconditional kindness and positive ethics. As Merton gradually concerned himself more and more with global events of moral relevance, he developed far-reaching ideas about the duty of a modern Christian. He began with the premise that to “choose the world” was a religious calling (Furlong, 1980,
p. 254) that had to be taken seriously. In a similar manner to Shantideva’s bodhisattva ideal, the choice to engage and empathize with others meant that the religious mission did not mean a complete “turning away” from the world, but rather to love the world in God. Merton begins his theology of love and empathy by putting a new spin on the notion of temptation. But he is referring to an unconventional kind of temptation (Merton, 1989a, p. 174). Analysing the common American psyche of his day, he identifies a particular temptation to see the Christian endeavour as “fighting” against an “enemy” that does not deserve the forgiveness of Christ (or will never understand it anyway). For him, this is a confusion of Christian values with the triumphalist Western values of the time. It is also a failure to attune oneself to the suffering of others and a denial of the self-identification that God offers in Jesus. In Jesus, God reveals himself as the Ideal Recipient: God is not like a spectator on the sidelines, but enters into the experiences of every participant in the world, especially the suffering of his human creations (Oord, 2008, p. 144). For Merton, therefore, to follow God’s example certainly does mean to “rid oneself of enemies,” but in a completely different way to what many of his contemporary Americans assumed. In the Christian narrative, the Deity serves as the greatest example of deep empathy when he chooses to appear amongst Creation, but this time in the very flesh:
(God said: I do not laugh at my enemies, because I wish to make it impossible for anyone to be my enemy. Therefore I identify myself with my enemy’s own secret self.) And so God became man (Merton, 1961, p. 293).
In this passage, Merton is highlighting two important ideas in Christian theology. The first notion is that in attempting to “make it impossible for anyone to be his enemy,” God appears in the world through the Incarnation to build the closest bridge possible to humanity (Moynihan, 2005, p. 99). In Christianity, Jesus is the culmination of the prophets and simultaneously surpasses them, for he is not simply a representative of God, but God himself. The expression of the Incarnation (Moynihan, 2005, p. 101) is God’s most powerful effort to draw people to himself via the closest identification possible. The second idea is that by identifying with his enemy’s secret self through Christ, God was able to empathize with all the frailties of human existence (except for the condition of
sin), including sorrow, frustration, and uncertainty. Therefore, Merton makes it clear that Christ’s message of forgiveness and earthly ministry is the foundation of his theology of empathy. This emphasis has grown significantly in recent decades, especially in liberation theology. Liberation theologians grapple with the reality that a vast majority of the world (and often their own people) experience oppression and injustice. For them a conception of God that ignores this reality (and the reality of physical death itself) is idealistic, if not downright alienating (Sobrino, 2002, p. 196). It has been argued that only a God who suffers with humanity can save it, particularly in the person, Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus (Sobrino, 2002, pp. 196 – 7). Granted, Sobrino’s assertion opens a range of theological and Christological debate as to how a perfect God can experience suffering and hence is mutable, or how the transcendence of God is affected by the suffering of Jesus in history. Dealing with this complex issue is beyond the scope of this thesis. It is sufficient to note that in both traditional and liberation theology, Jesus is seen as the role model of true empathy through the Incarnation. It is this theological perspective that Merton is promoting. However, he felt that his society overlooked the call to heal the wounds of injustice and reconcile with others. For him, extreme individualism and its concomitant egoism were not compatible with Christian teachings and made an awkward amalgamation. The results in America were not ideal. Many in his society simply felt little or no connection with others in their suffering, particularly with the poor and downtrodden of hostile nations, such as the Soviet Union, China, or northern Vietnam. Many did not even empathize with the civil rights movement in their own country (Merton, 1964, p. 60) or the struggles of other racial minorities. Because they turned in on themselves, they became incapable of projecting themselves into the pain and distress of the Other. It is in this backdrop that Merton makes an important observation: a lack of empathy does not always mean hatred. One will not necessarily hate the Other, but the mere refusal to accept them in one’s heart without suspicion or inner reservations is already tantamount to rejecting those that do not please oneself (Merton, 1989a, p. 174). When articulating this idea, Merton had in mind his contemporaries’ disdainful “toleration” and thinlyveiled contempt for people such as Jews, black people, unbelievers, heretics,
Communists, pagans, fanatics, and many others. He also acknowledges, in a somewhat ironic way, the “charity” of his contemporaries, which can be very loosely called “agapic”. But in this context, the use of the word covers and justifies a cold, suspicious disdain for the Other even as they keep him or her at a polite arm’s distance. Merton criticized this and other forms of this pseudo-agape29 as a fake Catholicism, a travesty of understanding, and a severe lack of empathy with the Other. It is not helpful to understanding the mystery of Christ and the Church (Merton, 1964, p. 59) and remains a far cry from the deep empathy and understanding that Jesus teaches. Merton argues that those who refuse or ignore Christ’s demand essentially deny any kind of happiness that would imply acceptance of those who have already been rejected by others. Because of what he saw as religious complacency and mean-spiritedness, he tackles this question of empathy with words that intentionally challenge the assumptions of American Christianity. He proposes that one must come to understanding others through a theology of love and empathy:
The problem: God has revealed himself to men in Christ, but He has revealed Himself first of all as love. Absolute truth is then grasped as love: therefore not in such a way that it excludes love in certain limited situations. Only he who loves can be sure that he is still in contact with the truth, which is in fact too absolute to be grasped by his mind. Hence, he who holds to the gospel truth is afraid that he may lose the truth by a failure of love… In that case he is humble, and therefore he is wise (Merton, 1989a, p. 44).
Therefore, the basic spiritual failure that Merton sees as endemic to his generation’s consciousness is the “loss of the Christian sense which sees every other man as Christ and treats him as Christ” (Merton, 1968b, p. 143). In the chapter about unconditional kindness, I highlighted this idea’s central importance in Merton’s thinking. The loss of this fundamental identification with others has also been acknowledged in contemporary Catholic circles, and it is seen as a reason for much of the crimes that were committed in the past few centuries. Decades after Merton’s death, Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed
Many of Merton’s countrymen assumed (and some still continue to assume) that European-American culture is axiomatic and that it was ideal to “integrate” other races and cultures and change them into respectable imitations of white, obedient Christians. It was evidence of a one-sided and arbitrary attempt to reduce others to a condition of conformity, not unity (Merton, 1964, pp. 62 – 3).
the importance of love in mitigating the evils of history. From this authoritative Catholic perspective, it is apparent that the lack of love and relationship is what imperils human dignity and relations.
It is clear that Christians in past centuries have been stained with grave sins. Slavery and the slave trade remain a dark chapter that show how few Christians were truly Christian and how far many Christians were from the faith and message of the Gospel, from true communion with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, lives full of faith and love, as seen in the humble willingness of so many priests and sisters to sacrifice themselves, have provided a positive counterweight and left an inheritance of love, which even if it cannot eliminate the horror of exploitation, nonetheless mitigates it. On this witness we can build, along this path we can proceed farther (Moynihan, 2005, p. 156).
While the complex relationship between divine agape and human ethical systems has already been recognized, Merton’s overarching notion of Christian love was important because it clarified the relationship between agape and identifying with the Other. True charity means establishing a mood of solidarity with the Other, without which understanding cannot be achieved. For him, deep empathy is an empowerment that arises from the Holy Spirit dwelling within a receptive soul that cannot deny the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all things. This vision of interconnectedness is also expressed (but articulated differently) in Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. In his commentary on the eighth chapter of Concentration, Geshe Yeshe Tobden clarifies why the empathetic state of mind is a basic imperative:
Thinking that other people’s suffering does not touch us and that we should not concern ourselves with eliminating it is a wrong conception that must be erased. This is equal to asserting that it is pointless to protect ourselves from the suffering we will experience when we are old, since it is not affecting us now… A doctor does not experience his patients’ pain, but he is ready to alleviate their miseries. Although the suffering of children is not that of their parents, still the parents are always ready to help them… We must help others to eliminate suffering simply because it is suffering… The main obstacle to benefiting others is ignorance, the worst aspect of which is the mind clinging to the self (Geshe Yeshe Tobden, 2005, p. 217).
Shantideva believes that acknowledging the suffering of others and of oneself is the first step to existential healing. In this sense, deep empathy can point to a way of life that helps to heal the realities of existential alienation and everyday perplexity. For Merton, there can be no minimization of sin in the explanation of redemption, or that would betray the mystery of God’s mercy revealed in the Gospel (Merton, 1967, p. 143). In refuting misunderstandings of Buddhism as reality shunning or (at the opposite spectrum) masochistic, Merton quotes his Zen conversation partner Suzuki: “Unless we agree to suffer we cannot be free from suffering” (Suzuki, 1968, p. 13). This is also an invitation to suffer with others so that the suffering of all may be alleviated. The courage to meet the existential problems and moral questions of existence contrasts greatly with the futility of what Merton calls a superficially “life-affirming” optimism which seeks only to escape one’s own suffering and the suffering of others. This is an attempt at distraction or diversion, and avoids facing suffering as a reality inseparable from life itself (Merton, 1968a, p. 94). Furthermore, through progressive steps of argument, Shantideva demonstrates that the dimension of deep empathy cannot function if there is clinging to the pleasures that dull one’s sense of the suffering pervading existence. This clinging to untrue presumptions is the cause of even more suffering. The Buddhist tradition teaches that the ego-conception makes a basic mistake by assuming that happiness is something that “belongs to it,” and by this logic, it must exclude others’ happiness from its scope of concern lest they take something away from it (Geshe Yeshe Tobden, 2005, p. 217). But it is possible to improve this way of thinking. Shantideva argues that our notions of “mine” and “belongs to me” arise through strong habituation and social conditioning (8.115). He proposes that through active cultivation and attuning, one can also come to think of “I” in relation to others. Deep empathy allows us to suffer and rejoice with the Other as if the Other’s pain and happiness were our own. The consequent shift in our moral outlook can be dramatic and life changing. What is required is a conversion to an attitude of cherishing others, given that we are more familiar with cherishing ourselves (Kelsang Gyatso, p. 265). Christianity and Buddhism teaches that it is not wrong (and indeed it is right) to love and cherish oneself –
as long as the purpose of such love is oriented towards life’s transcendent dimension. The attitude of cherishing others through meditation and contemplation therefore does not overlook the fact that Shantideva urges protection30 of oneself and one’s own “possessions,” as long as they are protected to benefit others. Examples of guarding one’s welfare would be moderation in the things one enjoys (primarily practicing Dharma and meditation) and neither regretting nor boasting of one’s deeds (Clayton, 2006, p. 49). The general welfare of oneself and others is protected by having the right intention for doing so. This entails an altruistic, humane motive and a non-possessive attitude (Clayton, 2006, p. 50) towards one’s practice and even the results of one’s meditation and prayers. Cherishing sentient beings should be solely oriented towards “establishing the Way of the Buddha” (budha-netri-pratistapana) (Clayton, 2006, p. 49). To borrow a previous expression, one should not turn in on herself, but to the Buddha instead. But if the calling to empathy is intentionally ignored and dulled, love and compassion become subordinate to the afflictions of laziness, an inclination for unwholesomeness, and, ironically, defeatism and self-contempt (WB, 7.2). This leads to what Merton calls a “preference for the absurd,” which is extremely harmful due to a certain “hard-headed, fully determined seriousness” in pursuing the satisfaction of “our appetite for status, and our justification of ourselves as contrasted with the totalitarian iniquity of our opposite number” (Merton, 1961, pp. 178 – 9). In this context, he was contending against a selfrighteous attitude, which is a major obstacle to cultivating empathy. For individuals that close themselves off from empathy and remain unreceptive to the call of the Holy Spirit, they may even think of themselves as doers of good, resulting in a deluded mindset and a smug sense of gratification. Unable to come to terms with their psychopathic obsessions and delusions (Merton, 1968b, p. 3), these people find it very difficult to understand or love their neighbour. As long as mindfulness and self-awareness are lacking, establishing the habits of love and empathy (and many other positive states of mind and virtues) is extremely difficult (WB, 4.46). Merton is in agreement with Shantideva when he writes that these collective ills are psychological in their origin. It is necessary to transform the mind and direct it away from the habitual tendencies that colour the failure to love with
As highlighted in the chapter about unconditional kindness.
self-righteousness and the isolated ego (Merton, 1989a. p. 90). Therefore, to counter the lack of empathy for one’s neighbour, Merton’s theology of love and empathy strives to identify with the world’s oppressed and reverse their plight. Because of its interconnectedness to unconditional kindness and positive ethics, deep empathy is boundless in scope and has many practical implications in Merton’s writing. He is setting agape in a modern, contemporary scene and bringing attention to its revolutionary nature. This radical relevance is something that Jesus was concerned with teaching to the oppressed and marginalized of his day. Jesus wanted to teach everyone – the marginalized and the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes – that God calls us to love and understand all people, especially those in most need. In line with this exhortation, Merton suggests that a theology of love can conceivably turn out to be a theology of “revolution” (1968b, p. 9). It is radical (and was particularly radical in his day) because of what it seeks to achieve. A theology of love and empathy is a sincere attempt to understand the pain and wounds of others. Furthermore, it does not blind itself to the fact that the world’s evil can reduce human brothers and sisters to homicidal desperation. This does not justify reciprocal violence or punitive action, because such responses can only perpetuate a vicious cycle of resentment and hatred. It can only be broken by a radical change in interpersonal understanding on multiple levels of society. The beginning point of this change begins with a reorientation of one’s otherwise indifferent or hostile attitude towards the Other. To live by the dimension of deep empathy constitutes, at its root, a very simple, stark choice to be an understanding person. Furton argues that Merton’s choice or “method” was the most radical one he could think of. He did not engage in marches or speeches31 but he did set about doing two things (Furton, 1980, p. 268). Firstly, one was to be totally informed, aware, and educated of the conflicts in the modern world. It is evident that he had read widely in regards to things such as the Adolf Eichmann trial, the Nazi death camps, Hiroshima, and more contemporary events. He would write prolifically on these subjects, to educate others and to help fulfill God’s purposes for a peaceful world. The
However, he wrote plenty of articles and was a sponsor of Pax Pax Christi (an international Catholic peace movement) and the Catholic Peace Fellowship (Furton, 1980, p. 268).
second thing he did, which is not disconnected from the first, was to simply be (within the simplest framework of life he could find, the hermit) the “human man,” a man who had attempted to recover some manner of measure. This individual’s happiness is not based on living in and for the false ego. Instead, his gaze is directed beyond himself (1980, p. 268), to where each human being (and indeed, every sentient being) is dignified in the light of love and compassion and treated accordingly. These two “methods” which he engaged in are important to deep empathy because this dimension is never realized by turning a blind eye to someone’s errors or wrongdoings. This is closely related to the rubric of unconditional kindness. An empathetic person does not shy away from the Other’s blemishes in an attempt to construct a false world of happy ignorance or passive acceptance. The one who is deeply empathetic strives to be acutely knowledgeable and aware of the world’s problems. Shantideva ties this heightened awareness, which calls upon intellectual as well as spiritual capacities, with the virtue of generosity or transcendent giving. He offers an encouraging argument that victory over the angry and hateful mind constitutes the ultimate triumph:
Transcendent giving, so the teachings say, / Consists in the intention to bestow on every being / All one owns, together with the fruit of such a gift. / It is indeed a matter of the mind itself. / Where could beings, fishes, and the rest, / Be placed to keep them safe from being killed? / Deciding to refrain from every harmful act is said to be transcendent discipline. / Harmful beings are everywhere like space itself. / Impossible it is that all should be suppressed. / But let this angry mind alone be overthrown, / And it’s as though all foes had been subdued (WB, 5.10 – 12).
For this reason, Shantideva prescribes a special practice unique to his tradition. It is the “exchange of self and other” and can be seen to be a contemplative extension of the empathy he and Merton seek to cultivate. It is expressed by Shantideva thus: “Those desiring speedily to be / A refuge for themselves and others, / Should make the interchange of ‘I’ and ‘other,’ / And thus embrace a sacred mystery” (WB, 8.120). This is 67
a meditation that consists of projecting oneself (through a feat of sympathetic imagination) into the position of an enemy. Looking “through the opponent’s eyes,” a disciple harnesses her own ego against herself, generating the appropriate “negative” emotion of jealousy, scorn, or judgement, and receiving a firsthand impression of what it is like to be at the receiving end of her own behaviour (WB, 2006, p. 19).32 In the equality of self and other, our minds grow more informed, our powers and bodies become freely offered to others (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 298), and a perfectly altruistic attitude arises (2007, p. 282). The meditation that is most relevant to the theme of this dimension is the identification with those who are less fortunate in wealth or status, or have suffered for our benefit (such as tramps, beggars, or the children of poverty-stricken families who work in factories). This meditation can be adjusted to suit the situation as necessary. The point is that the disciple exchanges himself with his chosen, less fortunate subject, allowing his new self to feel envy and unhappiness towards his actual self. Kunzang Pelden provides an elaboration in his commentary of Shantideva’s verses:
You… are nothing, nobody, a complete down-and-out, despised and utterly miserable. The person you are looking at is rich, has plenty to eat, clothes to wear, money to spend – while you have nothing. He is respected for being learned, talented, well-disciplined. You, on the other hand, are dismissed as a fool. He enjoys a wealth of every comfort and happiness; you by contrast are a pauper, your mind weighed down with worries, your body wracked with disease, suffering, and the discomforts of heat and cold [verse 142] (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 299).
Shantideva reminds the meditator who has put himself in a disadvantaged individual’s position: if the “other” (who is the meditator himself) retorts that the unhappy self is despicable because his discipline and understanding are a disgrace or because he lacks resources, this is not because he is evil or inept (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 300). The unhappy self should retort thus:
Kunzang Pelden explains: “[verse 140] When you perform the meditation of exchange, take other beings, whether inferiors, superiors, or equals and consider them as yourself, putting yourself in their position. When you have changed places, meditate without allowing any other thought to come in the way. Put yourself in the position of someone worse off than you and allow yourself to feel envy. Then put yourself in the position of someone on the same level and soak yourself in a sense of competitiveness and rivalry. Finally, taking the place of someone better-off, allow yourself to feel pride and condescension” (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 298).
… [verse 145] But the fact is that you, the great Bodhisattva, are doing nothing for me; you don’t even give me a scrap of food or something to drink. So why are you passing yourself off as someone so great? You have no right to look down on me, no right to behave so scornfully to me and people like me… even if you did have any genuine virtues, if you can’t give me any relief or help, what use are they to me? They’re totally irrelevant. [verse 146]… And not only do you not acknowledge this, but you are all the time passing yourself off as someone wonderful… In your arrogance, you want to put yourself on the same level as the real Bodhisattvas, those beings who are truly skilled and who in their compassion really do carry the burdens of others. Your behavior is totally outrageous! (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, pp. 300 – 1).
Shantideva’s passage reflects only one aspect of the hypocrisy that Merton identified in his contemporary society, which is the trumpeting of perceived virtues when it really has little practical bearing on those who should be benefiting from it most. The lack of empathy and understanding can certainly take many more insidious forms (Merton, 1964, pp. 190 – 1), but Shantideva teaches that identification with the negative afflictions of those of little power will at least lead to a greater sense of appreciation for their grievances (Kelsang Gyatso, 2000, p. 274). By being conscious of the suffering and inner turmoil that is involved in being a disadvantaged citizen of the world, one is able to recognize how important it is to discard any feelings of pride or condescension. One must treat them lovingly and to do compassionate works for them according to one’s practical means (Kunzang Pelden, 2007, p. 301). This comprehensive appreciation, when integrated with Merton’s understanding of love and empathy, forms the rubric of deep empathy in its totality. The Buddhist master believes, like Merton, in a radical application of compassion and solidarity that brings healing and open friendship to his fellow creatures. This is the next step to a deeper understanding of the Other: to direct one’s gaze away from the deception of one’s own ego and towards what is beyond appearances. It is to find an interior measure that will provide oneself and others with a humane and transcendent orientation towards the world. Authentic religion accepts the preciousness of life as it is and not for
the sake of any utility value. In this sense, deep empathy remains important to the sum of the religious condition because it is the deepest form of understanding human beings can share. As an individual rubric of morality, it has been demonstrated that there are matching threads through which Merton and Shantideva articulate their understanding of the Other. They consist of the theology of love and the exchange of self and other, and the two complete each other as the third moral dimension of agape and karuna.
CONCLUSION AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS In this thesis I have demonstrated the soundness of an encounter with Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna, and how this meeting is pertinent to moral living in Buddhism and Christianity. I have demonstrated that the masters are in agreement throughout many facets of their moral thinking, despite their distance in historical and social context. This is an important affinity that must be emphasized, particularly in the context of BuddhistChristian fraternity. Therefore, the conclusion to a hermeneutic exercise such as this would be lacking without a closing summary of its fruits. A significant debt is owed to Merton for approaching the Eastern and Dharmic traditions as a student, with a humbler and more open-minded spirit than those of his contemporaries (Merton, 1968a, pp. 15 – 6). It was he who asserted the importance of affirming any agreements between different religions and to acknowledge congruencies wherever it was possible (Merton, 1989, p. 144). In this sense, it is apparent that he was not content with the conventional Christianity of the society in which he lived and hence declared himself a diaspora Christian. He was a monk who balanced the apparently contradictory vocations of contemplation and engagement and as a result, was not afraid to point out contradictions and afflictions in the Catholic consciousness. He won a hearing for the Western peace and interfaith movement that it might not have enjoyed if he did not bring attention to the importance of self-awareness and mindfulness in a Christian context. While many authors and biographers are right to point out Merton’s steadfast adherence to traditional Catholic theology, the overall revolutionary nature of his life and writings cannot be overlooked. Merton saw everything in Creation as the stage for God’s redemptive work, and he recognized this redemptive work operating even outside the Catholic Church: in the Dharmic faiths, Judaism, Islam, the peace movement, and more. The idea that God is at work everywhere and redeeming every aspect of Creation is a well-recognized one, but Merton was particularly articulate in expressing this to a wide audience, with far-reaching implications and challenges for what he saw as complacent and sterile forms of theology. Because of my horizon as a politically liberal individual, part of my inspiration for the moral dimensions stems from Merton’s later
writing and the affinity that it shares with Shantideva’s teachings on compassion. Their genuine concern and support for the weak becomes pronounced when Merton criticized a powerful society33 that presumed itself to be devoutly Christian and loving when it was in fact a major collaborator in the problems that devastated the world. The outcome of this encounter has therefore been one of vivid moral kinship. Work in the field of interfaith dialogue is rarely truly complete, and the journey between these two masters has only just begun. Doubtless another writer more qualified than this one may take up the endeavour to continue building a road for them in the future. The most encouraging notion, as I have emphasized, is that their ethics of love and compassion are much closer than their temporal horizons and circumstances. They both contend that the open question of life is best fulfilled through a contemplative life of depth and wisdom, framed around the moral dimensions of unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. These rubrics of agape and karuna therefore do not serve a solely theoretical purpose. Nor are they restricted only to those who are well versed in Merton and Shantideva. Merton’s way of bearing witness to a world that has lost its way (Furton, 1980, p. 268) is an aspiration that is universal to all religious paths. It is also imperative to take into account Shantideva’s wisdom. It is particularly motivating when he insists that the path to liberation is open to any individual. It can be fulfilled by any open-minded person who stimulates a single thought of compassion, or by anyone who musters even a minute portion of discipline. A human life is exceedingly precious and an unmatched opportunity in the endless aeons and must be treated as such. He maintains that the spiritual path can indeed be accomplished by anyone and anything (WB, 7.17 – 18), as long as he or she is prepared to open his or her heart to it and marshal a sincere, committed effort (7.16). Thanks to his
He had in mind the United States in particular.
encouragement, we now know that to live by agape and karuna is not an esoteric endeavour limited to a small group of odd or secluded individuals. It is a comprehensive vision of religious practice that attempts to heal a world stained with injustice and cruelty. It aims at collective as well as inner transformation, something that Merton and Shantideva emphasize heavily. And with the guidance of the moral dimensions, it becomes possible to identify what constitutes mindful and skilful means by which to meet the many challenges that face people’s lives.
THE DIMENSIONS OF PROPHETIC ACTION AND CARING FOR SENTIENTS The hermeneutic exercise of this thesis is complete. It is now possible to glimpse a new crossroad in Merton and Shantideva’s dialogue, and to arrive at some further developments between their agape and karuna. The following proposed rubrics are by no means as comprehensive as unconditional kindness, positive ethics, or deep empathy. It is hoped, however, that they give an idea of the direction this conversation might take. These projected rubrics are the dimensions of “prophetic action” and “caring for sentients.” There are claims that Merton’s writing was in some ways “prophetic” and he also argued for a prophetic orientation of Christianity: to answer the call of God courageously and with insight, and to always deny that which would destroy humanity and the human spirit. As this seems to be a legitimate and powerful understanding of the role prophecy has played and still plays in contemplative Christianity, it is possible for the moral dimensions to be supplemented with a prophetic rubric that modern Buddhism can draw inspiration from as it continues to teach and heal future generations. Religion is concerned with more than simply providing explanations for suffering. It concerns itself most importantly with providing healing and witness to a destiny beyond the travails and suffering of the world we live in. From the perspective of the Bible, there has been a
tradition of individuals who are chosen by God to recall Israel to faithfulness and righteousness. These individuals are known as the prophets, and while they all experience fear, anguish, and self-doubt in their calling to transmit God’s message to God’s people, they press on and are time and again rejected or killed for their demand of Israel to return to God. On the moral level, they are representatives of a higher power that desires humans to return to moral conduct. But Gross asserts that Buddhism, despite its close involvement with kings, merchants, and the warrior classes, has historically lacked “the will to direct significant amounts of communal energy into social concerns and reconstructions” (Gross, 1993, p. 183). This is certainly an overgeneralization,34 but I agree with the specific point concerning social reconstructions, and this is certainly relevant to Shantideva. He hopes to provide succour to the suffering, yet protests against the injustices of his society are not addressed in detail in The Way of the Bodhisattva. We can only speculate as to why. Perhaps his royal blood or his patronage by contemporary leaders made him hesitant to challenge his day’s system of rule. And as much admiration as Merton nurtured for Zen (the form of Buddhism he was most interested in), Christopher Ives is correct when he points out that Zen, too, does not necessarily lead to positive social engagement. Even when it has done so historically, such engagement has occurred on different levels. Some were extremely positive, but others stood in direct tension with certain Buddhist principles and ideals. Part of this, in reflecting back on Merton’s criticisms about the Christianity of his own day, does owe itself to a partial lack of self-critical, systematic consideration of its “purest” ethics (Ives, 1992, p. 2). This is not to say that the concept of righteousness or social change and justice is absent from the Buddhist movement, but there is considerably less emphasis compared to that of the Jewish prophets and the dramatic messages of Jesus (it is a well-known peculiarity that the Buddha often enjoyed the support of Indian kings like Bimbisara, which is a stark contrast to Jesus’ critique of the Roman worldly powers). In other words, even the schools of Buddhism that Merton praised should always clarify the connection between religious suffering and social suffering so that they can continue to engage in decisive
Most importantly,Venerable Master Hsing-Yun and his institution of Fo Guang Shan (Mountain of Buddha’s Light) have been transformed the role of Chinese Buddhism in modernity and have provided a humanitarian and proactive role model for many other temples in East Asia to follow (Fu, 1995, p. 370 – 1). In other words, the presence of Buddhism is not as quietist as how many Westerners would be inclined to believe. Merton himself warned against this misconception.
action that leads to liberation (Ives, 1992, p. 107). I suggest that this particular rubric of “prophetic action” is the one that is incomplete in Shantideva’s thought. There exists a potential for the modern schools of Buddhism, particularly those that experience exposure to writers such as Merton, to build on this developing dimension.35 It complements the spiritual enthusiasm that originally led the early Mahayana schools to proclaim their doctrine of the bodhisattva as the most compassionate face of the transcendent. As all authentic religions strive to provide succour, wholeness, and ultimately the ending of suffering to all, the aspect of protest, especially against oppressions that reduce human beings’ capacities to spiritual practice, must be challenged repeatedly and tirelessly. It is now up to modern Buddhism to meet this timeless challenge, and while to many extents it has (as seen in the 2007 protests in Burma and the struggle for autonomy in Tibet), attention should also be given to the problems closer to affluent societies, where Merton’s ideas on resistance take on a new form of protest. The dimension of prophetic action, in a modern context, defends the dignity of humanity against the encroachments and brutality of massive power structures (Merton, 1968b, p. 4). This dimension persists in spite of oppressive or deceptive power structures and in resistance to them. It seeks a greater, more open vision of love and compassion that reflects the spiritual calling to build a better world. In turn, karuna can offer something that is valuable to contemporary Christianity. It is a rubric that is the next logical step of agape’s scope. It is the extension of love to all sentient beings for their intrinsic worth as reflections of divine sanctity and preciousness, in a oneness that is blessed by God as good and inseparable from goodness. Christianity has always possessed this precious wisdom, and Merton addressed the issue of “ecological theology” in several works, which are “The Wild Places,” “Wilderness and Paradise,” and Witness to Freedom. However, this informal theology was not as widely read as his other teachings, and the moral obligations that he identified were not always apparent to other Christians. Therefore, the mindful and compassionate teachings of Buddhism can help conventional Christianity to regain a greater awareness of Creation
See, for example, Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings on engaged Buddhism and Patricia Sherwoord’s The Buddha is in the Street: Engaged Buddhism in Australia (Bunbury: Edith Cowan University Press, 2003).
and its moral obligation to it. This is the dimension of “caring for sentients.” Merton’s historical horizon is that of the Cold War and his generation’s fears, hopes, and trials. But in the 21st century, the threats of ecological catastrophe and mass extinction have matched or even superseded the terror of the Cold War. As the world continues to understand more about itself, it is now apparent that Earth itself is a global community of Creation, an interrelated organism that includes humanity. There is evidence that Merton was aware of this issue in Christianity, although it is only after his death that it has grown into a globally charged debate. As a monastic, he asserted that the wilderness is where God is encountered. But his society was often blind to this possibility. Developing from their original Puritan forefathers’ repugnance for spontaneity and so in turn for nature and the wild, the contemporary “American capitalist culture” finds itself “rooted in a secularized Christian myth and mystique of struggle with nature” (Merton, 1989b, pp. 98 – 9). This mystique has led to a confession of “our firm attachment to values that inexorably demand the destruction of the last remnant of wildness,” but the moment there are protests and warnings about this “sickness in ourselves,” they are dismissed outright (Merton, 1989b, pp. 96 – 7). This inner contradiction and immaturity, he boldly states, is rooted in his society’s inheritance of biblical, Judeo-Christian tradition, which is no longer strictly biblical or Jewish or Christian due to the “American capitalist culture” and “Christian myth.” He notes the existence of a nominally Christian approach to the world that is dualist in its metaphysics. This discriminating dualism runs deep into the unconscious level and is correspondingly destructive of nature and of God’s Creation (Merton, 1989b, p. 97). This, he argues, must be addressed with renewed introspection and self-examination. Only then can the entirety of Creation glorify its God as intended. Although Merton’s contentions were aimed specifically at the American society in which he lived, his ethic of environmental care is quite congruent with the many theological texts that have stressed the need to move away from anthropocentrism. In recent decades, many philosophers and theologians have followed Merton in arguing for a rethinking of the religious vocation beyond our human borders.36 It is evident that humans share an
This contemporary vision of care for sentients is related, in part, to ideas about the meaning of nonhuman creatures’ suffering. Paul Edwards notes that several modern Christian writers, such as John Hick,
inseparable kinship with life on Earth and possibly on other worlds in light of the vast cosmos that science has confirmed. The moral dimensions examined in this thesis will not be truly moral if only humans are included in their sphere of attention. A mature approach, proceeding from what Merton has already addressed, must be large enough to encompass the universe in its totality, not only in the destiny of a small world like Earth alone. Buddhism can help to strengthen this dimension of caring for sentients. It is a hallmark of Zen (Ives, 1992, p. 13) and trans-historical religions37 (Chang, 1971, pp. xiv – xv). I am suggesting that the way humans treat other sentient beings is an important test of their spiritual maturity. It is encouraging that some contemporary theologians are considering a role beyond that of “human helper” for non-human creatures in God’s plan. Such discussions will, hopefully, occupy a high priority in theological ethics in the future. One such theologian writing for this cause is Thomas Oord. He has already coined a term that highlights God’s intimate presence and his call for all creatures, human and nonhuman, to promote overall wellbeing. This term is “theocosmocentrism” (Oord, 2008). For him, the ever-present God is empowering and inspiring all creatures to love according to their capacities (Oord, 2008). As such, theocosmocentrism is not completely different from caring for sentients, but I use the latter because it emphasizes the more immediate notion that a sentient being deserves love simply because it is sentient. From the perspective of the Great Vehicle, the spiritual vision must recognize the intrinsic worth and community of all beings regardless of doctrinal affiliation. The teaching of
have acknowledged that the problem of animal pain – including the pain inflicted by humans – is “large and intractable” (Edwards, 2009, p. 168) for Western philosophy and requires deep reflection on its implications for theological ethics. Edwards does not think it unreasonable to re-examine the traditional destiny of non-human creatures and what role they might play in the plan of providence. Once again, this opens complex issues that this thesis is not prepared to deal with. In any case, theologians like Browning have set aside an entirely separate environmental-social dimension because they want to give theological attention to the issue of the ecology (Browning, 1996, p. 157), which is being given a strong voice in contemporary Christian ethics. 37 A community’s historical methodology can direct its religious and eschatological thought, and in his book The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, Garma C.C. Chang provides an extremely insightful analysis into the different historical templates of the Judeo-Christian aesthetic and the Dharmic (specifically Buddhist for him) view on time. Key differences are that Christian history and eschatology are centred on planet Earth and is moving towards a final destiny enacted by the Divinity, whereas Buddhism holds that human history has no unique significance because there are countless universes with histories of countless other sentient beings being enacted, as well as innumerable religious dramas unfolding on different worlds. The second position is a trans-historical one.
rebirth and karma is only part of the reason. The Buddha urged kindness towards all creatures simply because all beings suffer whilst wanting to be free from suffering. This is all that is needed for the stimulation of unconditional compassion. There are many examples in the early canon and Mahayana sutras of the Buddha’s love for animals38 as well as the suffering of animals as an impetus to the endeavour for liberation. The words “sentient being” indicate the inclusiveness of the Buddhist religion and help to construct a unique terminology that can be adopted by modern Christianity. The moral dimension of the salvation of all even includes a single blade of grass (Unno, 1998, p. 65). Merton himself gave details of this non-sectarian understanding during his time in Polonnaruwa: “The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya… everything is emptiness and everything is compassion” (Merton, 1974, p. 235). It runs close parallels with the East Asian conception of Buddhism (Zen in particular), in which world-affirmation and optimism emphasize an individual’s liberation into a new way (Ives, 1992, p. xi) of experiencing the universe. Here, the self becomes a selfless self, in which there is nothing to be liberated from and in which nothing is excluded from the fullness of the individual’s spiritual blessedness. As a moral dimension, caring for sentients requires no interpretation to be recognized as a model of compassion for nature. The Puritan “struggle” that Merton observed is automatically acknowledged as unsound and harmful. Developing such an ecological, cosmic dimension seems to be a natural development that follows the well-deserved emancipation of women and the condemnation of racism and slavery as sinful. Having come so far compared to his contemporaries, Merton’s thought can be strengthened even further by an ethic recognized by theologians that extends beyond humanity’s exclusive communion with the Absolute. Therefore, the socially revolutionary dimension of prophetic action hails from the Western spiritual heritage, whereas the cosmic dimension of caring for sentients hails
In the Jayamangala Gatha a wild and murderous elephant, Nalagiri, attacks the Buddha. While everyone else flees, the Buddha holds up his hand to touch the beast, instantly pacifying her with nothing more than his loving kindness. The tamed Nalagiri then kneels before the Buddha in docility (Jayamangala Gatha, verse 3).
from the Eastern spiritual heritage. These rubrics are mutually complementary. Merton can provide the care of sentients with a lucid drive and a directive of proactive practice in the sphere of justice. In return, Shantideva can bring a comprehensive, universal clarity to prophetic action, ensuring that its keen righteousness is moderated by gentle wisdom and compassion for oneself and everyone else. In this closing section, I have given a brief overview of two moral dimensions that can be pertinent to Merton and Shantideva, although they already exist elsewhere in BuddhistChristian dialogue. More importantly, I have emphasized that the two masters’ encounter thrives in the three rubrics of unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. The fruits from their meeting can help to act as signposts for authentic and thoughtful practice. By bridging the horizons of Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna, I have demonstrated that their dialogue resonates with a way of life that is valuable to both the Buddhist and Christian traditions. This way of life seeks to communicate the undying love and compassion that every sentient being is secretly and shyly awaiting.
1. GLOSSARY OF TERMS Agape: A particular conception of love revealed in Christ, “taken as an indication of an essential quality in God and as a model for human imitation” (Livingstone, 1997, p. 26). While the term has also been rendered as “charity,” most modern renditions translate agape as “love.” The term stems from a distinction between love of the spiritual, selfless form and that of pagan eros, which is a lower, carnal passion (whilst eros in a Christian sense may mean an intense, contemplative yearning for God). Agape, as love, is the principle of God’s action and man’s response to God and fellow humanity. Bodhichitta: “Thought of awakening,” or the attitude of mind oriented towards Enlightenment. A key term in Mahayana Buddhism that denotes the state of mind for a Bodhisattva, bodhicitta possesses two aspects, the relative (samvrti-satya), which is the mind of a Bodhisattva directed towards Enlightenment, and the ultimate (paramarthasatya), in which the intrinsic nature of the mind is Enlightenment. For Buddhists to attain this invaluable state of mind, it is necessary to practice compassion and wisdom (karuna and prajna). Karuna: Translated as compassion, karuna is central to all Buddhist schools but particularly to Mahayana Buddhism, which has traditionally criticized the Theravada school for not emphasizing karuna sufficiently. It is one of the two complementary qualities, along with enlightened wisdom (Sanskrit: prajña), to be cultivated in the path to Enlightenment, more specifically, bodhichitta, the mind of Enlightenment that brings liberation to oneself and all other sentients. Compassion and wisdom, therefore, are likened to two wings with which one flies towards the shore of Nirvana (Keown, 2004, p. 138). Karuna is the foundation of Mahayana practice and has sometimes been extolled as the virtue that overrides all others. 80
Maha-karuna: According to Buddhist doctrine, maha-karuna is the perfection of karuna, in which the virtue is extended for unlimited strength and extent to all sentient beings in all world-systems. It is a special quality of advanced bodhisattvas (such as Avalokiteshvara) and the Buddhas and is unique to their transcendent nature. Prajna: Wisdom, or realization of emptiness and the transcending of conventional truth to ultimate truth. It is significant in the binary construction of karuna and prajna, in which bodhichitta is attained and sustained through the interplay of these two practices on the conventional level of inherent existence and the ultimate level of emptiness and interdependence. Fusion of horizons: A dialectic hermeneutic that fuses the horizons of the present interpreter and the projected historical horizon of the text through the sharing of prejudices and beliefs, the meeting and harmony of different ideas in any hermeneutic context. This requires a willingness to engage in the subjectivity of the hermeneutic exercise, allowing one’s horizon to overlap and learn from another. Fusion of three horizons: Because the thesis involves three horizons from Merton, Shantideva, and the author, Gadamer’s fusion of horizons has been expanded to three. This modified approach is the chosen interpretative method when constructing and analysing the moral dimensions. By bringing together these three horizons, a new reading is developed in the convergence of agape and karuna. Merton and Shantideva both acknowledge conceptual limitations in their understanding, and it is the thesis author’s contention that he can find close harmony within their horizons. Moral dimensions: The moral dimensions are shared rubrics of ethical practice identified in the agape of Thomas Merton’s writing and the karuna of Shantideva’s compositions. The author of this thesis analyses the significance and nuances of these moral dimensions
by applying the “fusion of three horizons” hermeneutic to their respective thought on agape and karuna. The primary dimensions of focus are: unconditional kindness, positive ethics, and deep empathy. Unconditional kindness: The dimension of devotion to others through the windows of non-attachment and unqualified care. Positive ethics: The rubric that aims for an open vision of moral practice that respects the complexities of individuals’ psychological and social situations. By transcending moralism, there is literally no obstacle to the exercise of agape and karuna, meaning that the subsequent release of the false, clinging self will be realized. It can be seen as a natural development from the first rubric of unconditional kindness, in which all beings are acknowledged and embraced. Deep empathy: The dimension of understanding the Other, formed through Merton’s theology of love and empathy and Shantideva’s teachings on the mind and the exchange of self and other. It also forms the more immediate, practical moral dimension between Merton’s agape and Shantideva’s karuna, since it refers to how one treats others in the light of unconditional kindness and positive ethics. Criteria for legitimacy: A set of criteria employed by the project’s author, used to determine legitimate readings of Merton and Shantideva. This set of criteria seeks to ensure that the project’s exercise remains focused on identifying agape and karuna’s commonalities in the moral dimensions. It will also help delineate the grounds for a practical application of the fusion of horizons as a methodological technique. These criteria are: 1. That the readings do not impose any Buddhist doctrines on Merton or Christian doctrines on Shantideva; 2. That it is explicitly and/or evidently addressing moral issues from the primary sources of the writers’ compositions;
3. That there is no forcing of a horizon on any other – Gadamer’s method is not advocating forcing an interpretation of texts; it advocates a dialogue between texts; 4. That accordingly, where there is disagreement or a philosophical difference between any of the three horizons, it must be acknowledged as an inevitable and even necessary component for dialogue to be meaningful and enriching, and: 5. That it fulfils the overarching objective of this thesis: to contribute a new connection between Merton and Shantideva’s religious ethics to BuddhistChristian studies. A reading that detracts from the moral dimensions and into metaphysical or soteriological grounds is seen as an illegitimate reading. The challenge here is to draw knowledge and wisdom from the writers’ complex and comprehensive texts whilst remaining centred on the general intention of enriching Buddhist-Christian dialogues in moral thought.
2. BACKGROUND TO DIALECTIC HERMENEUTICS For Heidegger, understanding has three forestructures: Vor-habe (fore-having), Vor-sicht (foresight), and Vor-griff (fore-grasping). Vor-habe, or fore-having, refers to the act of possessing in advance the holistic idea of the phenomenon under investigation including the system to which such a phenomenon belongs. It has something to do with the possession of a sweeping overview of the phenomenon. Graphically, we may represent the scope of Vor-habe with the outer circle of the configuration below.
Figure 1: Graphical Representation of Vor-habe
Vor-sicht, or foresight, refers to act of seeing in advance the general schema of the phenomenon under investigation. Graphically, we may represent its scope with the inner circle of the configuration above. The difference between Vor-habe and Vor-sicht lies in the expanse of their focus. Whereas Vor-habe is concerned with the phenomenon and its circumscribing system, Vor-sicht is immediately concerned with the phenomenon itself. Lastly, Vor-griff, or fore-grasping, is the act of having in advance an articulated system of concepts useful in the capturing the details of the phenomenon under investigation. Graphically, we may represent its scope with the grids inside the inner circle of the configuration above. The difference between Vor-griff and Vor-sicht again lies in the expanse of their focus. Whereas Vor-sicht is concerned with the holistic idea, Vor-griff is concerned with the details. (Demeterio, 2001b)
3. DIFFERENCES IN EMPHASES BETWEEN INDIAN AND CHINESE MAHAYANA BUDDHISM The most important scriptures that provided the basis for Buddhism’s affinity with indigenous Chinese philosophy were numerous, but those that were most crucial to the formation of a distinct Chinese Buddhism as opposed to the Indian heritage were, to name a few, the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Tathagatagarba Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. It was also the Chinese mastery of Buddhism and their creativity that proved crucial to providing a positive interpretation of emptiness without hypostatizing it, falling into deeper attachment to the phenomenal things of the world or deviating from Buddhist teachings. For Chinese interpretations, emptiness retains its ontological status, but its actuality or function in the eyes of enlightened beings is the manner in which anything acts as a necessary support for others: in other words, the idea that any phenomenon has an absolute value in the nexus of interdependence (Cook, 1977, p. 49). Therefore, while this is still emptiness as espoused in the Indian tradition, it now enjoys the Chinese affirmation that all things are interdependent and vital within the matrix of the realm of reality.
At first, Chinese exegetes were understandably concerned with the ontologically negative implications of the emptiness teaching from Indian Buddhism (Cook, 1977, p. 43). But the patriarchs of the Hua-yen school39 were pioneers in reversing Indian Buddhism’s negatory language and bringing to the forefront distinctly Chinese40 interpretations of Buddhist doctrine. For example, Tu-shun’s “three discernments” of “true emptiness,” of “mutual nonobstruction of principle and phenomena,” and of “total pervasion and inclusion” in his Fa-chieh kuan-men demonstrated an authoritative and accurate comprehension of emptiness whilst giving it a radical Chinese spin. He argued that while the first discernment demonstrated the true emptiness of reality (the Indian goal), it did not reveal its marvellous actuality (miao-yu). Cook maintains that the Chinese exposition on emptiness was through a different emphasis to that of Indian Buddhists: that emptiness is interdependence, and that instead of reducing all things to the common level of insignificance (emptiness), all things are raised to the common level of supreme value (Cook, 1977, p. 48 – 49). This would only be accomplished in the next two discernments, through which two Chinese terms, principle (li) and phenomena (shih), became crucial features of the Hua-Yen discourse. The appropriation of “emptiness” with “principle” and “form” with “phenomenon” marked an important evolution toward affirmative discourse and affirmation of the phenomenal world. This was due to the second discernment’s elucidation of various ways in which phenomena and principle interrelate. Because phenomena instantiate principle, the former is validated, and this positive valuation of the phenomenal universe culminates in the third discernment: total pervasion and inclusion, through which principle (emptiness) itself is transcended, and one enters the cosmos of total interpenetration, which is the radical realm of totality revealed in the Avatamsaka Sutra. In Gregory’s words: “Each and every phenomenon is not only seen to contain each and every other phenomenon, but all phenomena are also seen to contain the totality of the unobstructed interpenetration of all phenomena” (Gregory, 1991, p. 6 – 7). This metaphysical system is otherwise known as totalism.
Origins of the central Hua-yen teachings are attributed to Tu-shun (557~640 C.E.), were formulated by Chih-yen (602~668), systematized by Fa-tsang (643~712), and elucidated by Ch’eng-kuan (ca. 737~838) and Tsung-mi (780~841). 40 See Cook, 1977, p. 29 for how the Taoist and Ch’an appreciation for nature and the natural world came to influence Chinese Buddhism in a very important way.
Such creativity is not illegitimate because it is drawn from the visionary and poetic Avatamsaka Sutra. It is no surprise why it is highly revered in Asian Buddhism as representing the longest and (for many) the most profound revelation of the Buddha to sentient beings. It is also the scripture that single-handedly converted the author of this thesis to Buddhism; indeed, were it not for this scripture, I would not have taken refuge and aligned my life with the Buddhist vision. After the Chinese interpretation of emptiness had become a cardinal tenet of Chinese Buddhism, the universalist doctrine of the tathagatagarba or Buddha-womb also became a central doctrine of faith. It designates the potentiality for Buddhahood that exists embryonically within all sentient beings along with the pure principle of Buddhahood that appears enwombed within defiled sentient existence. Although this doctrine was of relatively minor significance in Indian Buddhism, it assumed a distinct importance in Chinese Buddhism thanks to its resonance and affinity with perennial occupations of Chinese philosophy, such as the definition of human nature, sources of ethical action, and the underlying ontological matrix of the phenomenal world. It provided a basis for faith in the universal accessibility of Enlightenment but also a rationale for qualifying or moderating the apophasis of Madhyamaka emptiness (Shantideva’s tradition) and hence providing an even more life-affirming vision of Buddhism (Gregory, 1991, p. 12 – 13), along with affirming the eternity and unwavering compassion of the bodhisattvas and Buddhas. Placed beside the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, which are “negative” in their wisdom, it is valid to acknowledge the Hua-Yen teachings and their central text, the Avatamsaka Sutra, as a “positive” approach to the bodhisattva and her work in the cosmos (Thurman, 1976, p. pp. 52 – 3). The doctrines of interpenetration and Buddhanature would be crucial to the legitimacy of Chinese Buddhism as an authentic tradition of the Buddha’s spiritual heritage.
4. AMITĀBHA Light, Life, and the Name The Pure Land tradition (and the Mahayana in general) is the historical form and expression of a non-historical, transcendent reality (Ingram, 1977, p. 77). At the highest level of practice, which runs close parallels with other mystical traditions, Amitābha represents the formless True Mind or Self-Nature common to Buddhas and sentient beings – all-encompassing and all-inclusive. This deeper understanding provides the rationale for the harmonization of Zen and Pure Land, the two most popular schools of Mahayana Buddhism (Smith, 1993, p. 235). However, the identities of sentient beings and Amitābha still remain metaphysically distinct and separate (Ingram, 1977, p. 80). In Pure Land Buddhology, Amitābha’s nature consists of the three characteristics of infinite light, infinite light, and the Name. This is not identical to the notion that Amitābha is a Truth-Body Buddha that approaches sentient beings to liberate them. Amitābha’s dharmakaya or Body of Truth is the absolute suchness of enlightenment, the absolute reality. Amitābha is the Buddha Nature common to all beings, Buddhas, and bodhisattvas. This Body of Truth is encountered by beings born into the Pure Land or by those who devote their lives to Amitābha, personified by Amitābha’s sambhogakaya, or manifestation of the dharmakaya through skilful means (as described in the Contemplation Sutra). Amitābha in the nirmanakaya is the historical manifestation as Dharmakara, fulfilling his forty-eight bodhisattva vows. The Light, Life, and Name of Amitābha are directly referred to in the scriptures (specifically the Larger Sutra). Amitābha’s unceasing light is demonstrated in Vow Twelve: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be limited, illuminating even a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment” (268a). The Buddha’s eternity is highlighted in Vow Thirteen: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, my lifespan should be limited, even to the extent of a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment” (268a). Vow
Seventeen indicates Amitābha’s unique supremacy among all other Buddhas: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, innumerable Buddhas in the lands of the ten directions should not all praise and glorify my Name, may I not attain perfect enlightenment” (268a). Amitābha is therefore the Buddha who has taken on the forms of light, life, and Name to awaken sentient beings and bring them to his Pure Land. Light and life are the qualities depicted in the Name and reveal Amitābha’s universality and transtemporality. The Name itself is the manifestation of the Buddha’s presence, the embodiment of perfection, enlightenment, and how it communicates itself to the universe of unenlightened beings. Of course, Amitābha possesses countless other characteristics, but these are the central Buddhological teachings that articulate and systemize Amitābha’s relation to sentient beings (note that it is impossible to systemize the traits of the actual Buddha because the Buddha is fundamentally inconceivable). And of course, Amitābha’s infinite compassion is revealed in the aforementioned Primal (purva) Vow – the supreme Eighteenth Vow which states that any being that invokes, thinks of, or is mindful of the Name will experience the Pure Land. The Primal Vow is called thus because it is prior to the beginningless beginning of time, taking in all beings unconditionally (Unno, 1998, p. 20).
Infinite Light (Amitābha, Twelfth Vow) The name of “Infinite Light” and light symbolism is extremely important in the Buddhist tradition and forms the central object of faith, worship and veneration (Ingram, 1977, p. 85). It has other qualities like purity and joy and often symbolized by the sun. The notion of light is grounded in merit-acquiring practices of Mahayana soteriological disciplines. One must know the Buddha’s unimpeded light, and by partaking in the light, one will be saved:
The light of Amitāyus shines brilliantly, illuminating all the Buddha lands of the ten directions. There is no place where it is not perceived. I am not the only one who now praises his light. All the Buddhas, sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas praise
and glorify it in the same way. If sentient beings, having heard of the majestic virtue of his light, glorify it continually, day and night, with sincerity of heart, they will be able to attain birth in his land as they wish (Larger Sutra, 270b, 11). The Buddha Amitāyus possesses eighty-four thousand physical characteristics, each having eighty-four thousand secondary marks of excellence. Each secondary mark emits eighty-four thousand rays of light; each ray of light shines universally upon the lands of the ten directions, embracing and not forsaking those who are mindful of the Buddha (Contemplation Sutra, 343b, 17).
As “infinite” indicates, Amitābha’s light should not be understood as a reality standing in dualistic opposition to samsaric existence. Instead, it illuminates and embraces blind passions and takes them into itself. It is able to shine on all beings, including those who are do not know the religious path (Yoshifumi, Hirota, 1989, pp. 115 – 6). This Pure Land soteriology has its roots in India, where the Mahayana movement first began. It is recorded that Shakyamuni Buddha attained Nirvana after looking upon the morning star at dawn, after the evening’s final struggle with Mara. This experience has been universalized as the final step towards enlightenment. Because Amitābha is the Buddha of Unceasing Light, salvation is naturally guaranteed thanks to Dharmakara’s vows and the truth of light as the illumination of reality. Amitābha’s ineffable light therefore allows a sentient being to understand the true nature of reality through devotion, meditation and prayer. The nature of light in the Mahayana tradition is therefore the wisdom that a Buddha or bodhisattva possesses. To know is to become. Knowing the light, one becomes the light; encountering reality, one becomes truly real. But Amitābha’s light is not “light” in the conventional sense because there are many locations where light cannot shine. This light is merely physical light: it can only be known through the senses and conceived of in the brain. We cannot conceive of it fully, because its concrete qualities are essentially different from what we know as light. The all-pervasive activity of the Buddha’s wisdom and his transcendent activity of bringing sentient beings to awareness is expressed in terms of the concept of light, but this light still transcends the conception of any being. Amitābha’s wisdom-light is unhindered and
inconceivable; therefore it has no form and cannot be truly understood as anything less than a pervasive, invisible, truth (Yoshifumi, Hirota, 1989, p. 116).
Infinite Life (Amitāyus, Thirteenth Vow) In the primeval past, countless trillions of aeons in prehistory, Amitābha’s Body of Truth manifested form and announced a Holy Name, appearing as Dharmakara Bodhisattva in order to awaken beings to itself and to themselves. This bodhisattva, according to the Pure Land canon, established the Forty-Eight Vows to bring all beings to enlightenment and became Amitābha Buddha (Yoshifumi, 1978, p. 65). This is a narrative expressed in historical terms and is set in a primordial age before the creation of our world-system, Saha (Endurance). Infinite life also does not mean enduring indefinitely within time (for within time, all things have the marks of impermanence, change, and suffering). Infinite life stands beyond our conceptual framework of time, but possesses the power to become present in every moment of time. This is, like infinite light, tied to the union of samsara with the true and real. Unhindered, boundless life is obviously eternal, but enters into the time and history of all world-systems and fuses with the existences of all beings.
The Name (All Buddhas throughout the cosmos praise Amitābha’s Name, the central gateway to salvation – Seventeenth Vow) We can say with confidence that the Name is the central object of worship in Pure Land Buddhism, particularly because of the holy reality it embodies (Yoshifumi, Hirota, 1989, pp. 118 – 9). It is what distinguishes Amitābha from other Buddhas (for light and life, while domains of Amitābha, are also universal to other Buddhas and bodhisattvas). Unno notes brilliantly: “Philosophically speaking, the nembutsu is the self-articulation of fundamental reality… The Name is vibrant with mythic significance.” He understands the Name as the “source of creative life, the power that affirms reality-as-is” (Unno, 1998, p.
27 – 8). The revelation of the Name enters in to the realm of conditioned and impermanent life at its essential and fundamental level, irrupting into the universe and acting meaningfully to intelligent beings in the mode of language. The Name is given to us so that the transtemporal Amitābha’s light and life becomes conceivable as the overriding presence in time and in samsara. In hearing of it and in pronouncing it, the Buddha’s presence becomes truly embodied in samsaric existence, like his light and life (Yoshifumi, Hirota, 1989, p. 118). The Name is therefore the Presence of Amitābha Buddha suffusing the multiverse. According to Yoshifumi and Hirota, the Seventeenth Vow holds a double significance. Firstly, it assures that the Name will be heard by all beings in the cosmos. Secondly, the Buddhas’ praise of the Name testifies to Amitābha’s power and efficacy in delivering beings by revealing the Name as the fundamental presence of Buddhahood in samsara. This is why a quarter of Amitābha’s Vows define the virtues of hearing the Name, as seen in Vow 32, 42, 45, 43, 44, and 47 (Yoshifumi, Hirota, 1989, p. 119). As already emphasized, in East Asian Buddhism, Amitābha has historically been understood according to three essential concepts that reveal the nature of the Buddha to human beings: light, life, and the Name. The final concept that distinguishes Amitābha from other Buddhas is his Pure Land, or the Sukhāvati mentioned in Shantideva’s final chapter in WB. As mentioned already in Chapter 2 of this thesis, among Dharmakara’s Forty-Eight Vows was the creation of a Buddha Universe called the Land of Ultimate Bliss and Peace. Any who invoke Amitābha sincerely (canonically, it is interpreted as ten times) can enter into this inconceivable paradise, through verbal and mental recitation. According to the Dasabhumikavibhasa Sastra, those who dwell in the Pure Land then attain bodhisattvahood or Buddhahood with Amitābha’s guidance, and can return to samsara to help countless sentient beings (Williams, 1989, p. 258).
5. MERTON’S EXPERIENCE OF POSITIVE ETHICS AT POLONNARUWA It was in Sri Lanka that Thomas Merton would come to a personal, real experience of Buddhist and Christian harmony; to touch the Inconceivable in a language he understood completely, which was the language of God’s presence. This is the famous story of Merton’s extraordinary experience at Polonnaruwa, where he looked upon the massive reclining Buddhas and felt that he had finally found what he was looking for ever since he became a monk: “that these great holy figures, all around him like benevolent mothers and fathers, had released the love and joy in his heart that he had been seeking for all his life, that he had come home, and the home was God” (Furlong, 1980, p. xix). This may well have been a non-conceptual experience only a mystic of Merton’s moral calibre could have undergone. Below is Merton’s account in his own words.
I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything – without refutation – without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures… Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner, clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious… The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no “mystery.” All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya… everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely, with Mahabalipuram and Polonnaruwa my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise (Merton, 1974, p. 233 – 6).
Evidently, Merton’s experience of the reclining Buddhas was one of the most important spiritual encounters with the Inconceivable in his life. It was certainly his most important experience in the entirety of his trip to Asia. Furton’s biography on Merton goes so far as to suggest in the concluding chapter and epilogue about his death:
Perhaps Merton was accident-prone… and absently-minded forgot about the dangers of touching electrical equipment with wet hands; perhaps the fan was merely faulty. Perhaps, however, he had finished his life six days before at Polonnaruwa and was called to the God he had loved and served so well… There is no suggestion that Merton’s death was in any way deliberate, but there is a sense that, like the Zen Masters before him, his life, after Polonnaruwa, had made a perfect circle and was complete. He had “seen through the shadow and the disguise” (Furton, 1980, p. 332).
6. THESIS AMENDMENTS FROM RELN6000 RESEARCH PROPOSAL Originally in my research proposal, the dimension of positive ethics was to be the selfless dimension, which would be the rubric in which Merton and Shantideva strive to abandon the false self. However, as my research progressed, it became evident that their endeavour to provide a vision of moral practice that respects the complexities of individuals’ psychological and social situations enjoyed more common ground than their ideas about the “false self.” The dimension of deep empathy (which is itself an amendment of the rather ambitious idea of “total empathy”) was originally worded as “the dimension of unmitigated reconciliation with the Other.” Eventually the word “reconciliation” was discarded and replaced by the more conventional word “understanding” for two primary reasons: firstly, that it is entirely possible for Merton and Shantideva to understand the Other without having experienced strained relations beforehand (which “reconciliation” implies), and secondly, “reconciliation” is more specific to the Christian tradition in regards to humanity’s estranged relationship with God, whereas the Buddhist religion tackles the 93
problem of suffering from a perspective that emphasizes different ideas. While reconciliation in the theological sense certainly does play a role in the dimension of deep empathy for Merton and his agape, it does not serve well as an overarching rubric for Shantideva. In contrast, the word “understanding” allows both masters to express their notions on deep empathy on their own terms, whilst keeping the dialogue grounded in the three horizons hermeneutic and the five criteria of legitimacy.
List of works by/about Shantideva Primary Sources Shantideva (2006) The Way of the Bodhisattva. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, London: Shambhala Shantideva (1971) Siksha-samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine. Translated from the Sanskrit by Cecil Bendall and W.H.D. Rouse. Bungalow Road, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Commentaries Kelsang Gyatso, Geshe (2000) Meaningful to Behold: The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited Kunzang Pelden (2007) The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group, Boston, London: Shambhala Sridhar Tripathi, e.d. (1988) Bodhicaryavatara of Santideva with the Commentary Panjika of Prajnakaramati. Buddhist Sanskrit Texts No. 12, Darbhanga: Mithila Institute Geshe Yeshe, Tobden (2005) The Way of Awakening: A Commentary on Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, Inc. Secondary Sources Beyer, Stephan (1974) The Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations. Encino, California and Belmont, California: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc. Brassard, Francis (2000) The Concept of Bodhicitta in Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. Albany: State University of New York Press Cabezon, Jose Ignacio (1994) Buddhism and Language: A Study of Indo-Tibetan Scholasticism. Albany: State University of New York Press Chang, Garma C.C. (1971) The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: The Philosophy of Hwa95
Yen Buddhism. University Park and London: Pennsylvania University Press Chatral Rinpoche (2007) Compassionate Action. Ithaca, New York and Boulder, Colorado: Snow Lion Publications Chu-hung and Tsung-pen (1994) Pure Land, Pure Mind: The Buddhism of Masters Chuhung and Tsung-pen. Trans. J.C. Cleary. The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Hang Chow R. Rd., Taipei Clayton, Barbara (2005) Moral Theory in Shantideva’s Siksasamuccaya: Cultivating the Fruits of Virtue. Madison Avenue, New York: Routledge The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Trans. Thomas Cleary, 1984 – 1993. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications Cook, Francis (1977) Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press The 14th Dalai Lama (1996) The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications Dayal, Har (2004) The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd. Eppsteiner, Fred (e.d.) (1988) The Path of the Bodhisattva: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press Fung Yu-Lan (1976) A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. New York: The Free Press. Fu Chi-ying (1995) Handing Down the Light: The Biography of Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Trans. Amy Lui-Ma. Hacienda Heights: His Lai University Press Gregory, Peter N. (1991) Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press Gross, Rita (1993) Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press Hattam, Robert (2004) Awakening-Struggle: Towards a Buddhist Critical Social Theory. Flaxton: Post Pressed Hua, Tripitaka Master (1980) The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra with Verses without a Stand and Prose Commentary. San Francisco: The Buddhist Text Translation Society The Larger Sutra on Amitāyus (Taisho Volume 12, Number 360). Trans. Inagaki Isao (2003) in collaboration with Harold Stewart, Revised Edition. Berkeley, California:
Numata Centre for Buddhist Translation and Research Ingram, Paul O. (1977) The Dharma of Faith: An Introduction to Classical Pure Land Buddhism. Washington: University Press of America Ives, Christopher (1992) Zen Awakening and Society. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press Gadjin M. Nagao, “The Bodhisattva Returns to this World,” in Kawamura, Leslie (e.d.) (1997) The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications, pp. 61 – 79 Keown, Damien (e.d.) (2004) A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Clarendon Street: Oxford University Press Donald S. Lopez, Jr., “On the Interpretation of Mahāyāna Sutras,” in Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (e.d.) (1988) Buddhist Hermeneutics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press Namgyal Wangchen, Geshe (1987) Awakening the Mind of Enlightenment: Meditations on the Buddhist Path. London: Wisdom Publications Jenkins, Stephen L. The Circle of Compassion: An Interpretive Study of Karuna in Indian Buddhist Literature (1999). Harvard University: UMI Dissertation Services Kiyota, Minoru (1978) Mahayana Buddhist Meditation: Theory and Practice. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii McMahan, David L. (2002) Empty Vision: Metaphor and Visionary Imagery in Mahayana Buddhism. New Fetter Lane, London: RoutledgeCurzon Murti, T.R.V. (1960) The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of the Madhyamaka System. Museum Street, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. Pye, Michael (1990) “Skillful Means and the Interpretation of Christianity,” in BuddhistChristian Studies, Vol 10. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 17 – 22 Schroeder, John (2001) Skillful Means: The Heart of Buddhist Compassion. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press Sebastian, C.D. (2005) Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism: An Analytical Study of the Ratnagotravibhago-Mahayanottaratantra-sastram. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications Shibayama, Zenkei (1967) On Zazen Wasan: Hakuin’s Song of Zazen. Trans. Sumiko Kudo. Kyoto
Smith, Forrest (e.d.) (1993) Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure-Land: Letters from Patriarch Yin Kuang. Trans. Master Thich Thien Tam. Davidson Avenue, New York: Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada Suzuki, D.T. (1963) Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism. New York: Schocken Books - (1968) The Essence of Buddhism, 2nd revised edition. Kyoto: Hokozan Thurman, Robert A.F. (trans.) (1976) The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture. University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press. Unno, Taitetsu (1998) River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism. Broadway, New York: Doubleday Wetleson, John (2002) “Altruism and Reality: Did Śāntideva Destroy the Bodhisattva Path?”, Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Volume 9, p. 34-88. Retrieved from http://www.Shantideva.net/wetlesen_response.htm on March 30, 2009. Williams, Paul (1989) Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. London and New York: Routledge Williams, Paul (1998) Altruism and Reality: Studies in the Philosophy of the Bodhicaryavatara. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd. Venerable Yin-shun (1998) The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master. Trans. Dr. Wing H. Yeung, M.D. Boston: Wisdom Publications Yoshifumi Ueda (e.d.) (1978) Letters of Shinran: A Translation of Mattosho. Kyoto: Hongwanji International Center Yoshifumi Ueda, Hirota, Dennis (1989) Shinran: An Introduction to His Thought. Kyoto: Hongwanji International Center
List of works by Thomas Merton - (1941 – 1952) Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and a Writer (The Journals, Vol. 2). San Francisco: Harper - (1955) No Man is an Island. London: Hollis and Carter - (1957) Seeds of Contemplation. London: Burns and Oates - (1957) The Silent Life. New York: Farrar, Staus and Cudahy - (1961) Disputed Questions. Originally published in 1953. London: Hollis and Carter - (1964) Seeds of Destruction. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - (1967) Mystics and Zen Masters. New York: Farrar, Staus and Cudahy - (1968a) Zen and the Birds of Appetite. New York: New Directions - (1968b) Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press - (1972) New Seeds of Contemplation. Eighth Avenue, New York: New Directions. - (1973) Contemplation in a World of Action. Gordon City, New York: Image Books - (1974) The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, e.d. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin. London: Sheldon Press - (1975) Spiritual Direction and Meditation and What is Contemplation?. Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire: Anthony Clarke - (1976) The New Man. London: Burns and Oates - (1978) Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt Brace - (1980) The Nonviolent Alternative. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - (1985) Love and Living. San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jonanovich - (1989a) Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Fifth Avenue, New York: Image Books, Doubleday
- (1989b) Walter H. Capps (e.d.) “The Wild Places” in Thomas Merton: Preview of the Asian journal. New York: Crossroad, pp. 95 – 107. - (1990) Brother Patrick Hart (e.d. ) The School of Charity: Letters on Religious Renewal and Spiritual Direction. San Diego, New York, London: Harvest/HBJ
Secondary Sources C. Stephen Evans, “Kierkegaard’s View of Neighbor Love,” in Boyd, Craig A. (e.d.) (2008) Visions of Agape. Hampshire, England and Burlington, USA: Ashgate, pp. 73 – 83 Thomas Jay Oord, “A Relational God and Unlimited Love,” in Boyd, Craig A. (e.d.) (2008) Visions of Agape. Hampshire, England and Burlington, USA: Ashgate, pp. 135 – 48 Browning, Don S. (1996) A Fundamental Practical Theology: Descriptive and Strategic Proposals. Minneapolis: Fortress Press Carr, Anne E. (1988) A Search for Wisdom and Spirit: Thomas Merton’s Theology of the Self. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press Cunningham, Lawrence S. (1999) Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Edwards, Paul (2009) God and the Philosophers. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books Furlong, Monica (1980) Merton: A Biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers Furnish, Victor Paul (1973) The Love Command in the New Testament. Bloomsbury Street, London: SCM Press Ltd. Irwin, Alexander C. (1991) Eros Toward the World: Paul Tillich and the Theology of the Erotic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press Livingstone, E.A. (e.d.) (1997) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Great Clarendon Street: Oxford University Press Moynihan, Robert (e.d.) (2005) Let God’s Light Shine Forth: The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI. London: Hutchinson Nygren, Anders (1982) Agape and Eros. Trans. Philip S. Watson. Marylebonne Road, London: SPCK
Outka, Gene (1972) Agape: An Ethical Analysis. New Haven and London: Yale University Press Pembroke, Neil (2002) The Art of Listening: Dialogue, Shame, and Pastoral Care. London and New York: T & T Clark/Handsel Press - (2006) Working Relationships: Spirituality in Human Service and the Organisational Life. London and New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. - (2007) Moving Toward Spiritual Maturity: Psychological, Contemplative, and Moral Challenges in Christian Living. New York: The Haworth Pastoral Press Sobrino, Jon S.J. (2002) Christology at the Crossroads: A Latin American Approach. Trans. John Drury. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers Thurston, Bonnie (1994) “Why Merton Looked East,” Monastic Interreligious Dialogue: Bulletin 49, January 1994. Retrieved from http://www.monasticdialog.com/a.php? id=681&cn=1 on August 30, 2009. Vacek, E. (1994) Love, human and divine: The heart of Christian ethics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press Wilhelm, J. (1911) “Nicene Creed,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11049a.htm on September 18, 2009.
Miscellaneous Demeterio, F.P.A. (2001a), “Introduction to Hermeneutics,” Diwatao 1, no.1. Retrieved from http://www.geocities.com/philodept/diwatao/introduction_to_hermeneutics.htm on March 30, 2009. Demeterio, F.P.A. (2001b), “Dialectical Hermeneutics,” Diwatao 1, no.1. Retrieved from http://www.geocities.com/philodept/diwatao/dialectical_hermeneutics.htm on March 30, 2009. Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1979) Truth and Method. London: Sheed and Ward Grayling, A.C. (2002) The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life. London: Phoenix
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