In the previous study of the two Thomases, 1 the centering prayer groups in Albuquerque and Edgewood found that both Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating affirm union with the divine as the path to our true being. Now, we may ask, what do Keating and Merton say about the return path as viewed from Christian and Eastern religious perspectives?
Merton, in Zen and the Birds of Appetite, says that Buddhism does not attempt to understand or “believe in” Buddha’s enlightenment so much as it “seeks an existential and empirical participation in that enlightenment experience.” 2 In other words, we do not have to believe in Buddha’s enlightenment as much as we need to experience enlightenment ourselves.
Merton continues by saying that Zen is not interested in factual statements or doctrines but rather in direct personal experience of reality. Herein lies a disparity between Zen and Christianity, which Merton calls an obstacle to mutual understanding. This obstacle is the “Western tendency to focus not on the Buddhist experience, which is essential, but on the explanation, which . . . Zen often regards as completely trivial and even misleading.” 3
Why does Christianity focus on statements and doctrines rather than upon experience? Merton believes Christianity “begins with revelation” and is “communicated to us in words, in statements, and everything depends on the believer’s accepting the truth of these statements.” 4
Yet this seeming “obsession” with doctrines is mitigated by what Merton calls the “heart of Catholicism,” a “living experience of unity in Christ which far transcends all conceptual formulations.” 5 So, moving from doctrinal obsession to possible common ground based on experience, Merton attempts to lay a foundation for dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.
The other Thomas, Thomas Keating, also notes common ground that exists between Christianity and Eastern religions. In Intimacy with God, he calls to our attention the “oneness or experience of non-duality . . . addressed in the advanced spiritual traditions of the world’s religions.” The experience of non-duality is also “always accompanied by an abiding sense of unity with Ultimate Reality.” 6
Both Thomases stress the experience of unity, of non-duality. In the next article, they express more about this experience which opens to us the return path of true being.
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If you are interested in attending a centering prayer group in Albuquerque or Edgewood, please call (505) 281-7542.
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1 Please see the previous article at http://www.examiner.com/article/centering-prayer-albuquerque-and-edgewood-1 .
2 Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book, The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1968, page 36
3 Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book, The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1968, page 38
4, 5 Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book, The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1968, page 39
6 Intimacy with God, Thomas Keating, A Crossroad Book, Snowmass, Colorado, 2009, page vii