Today I’ll be travelling from Victoria to Albuquerque via Seattle and Salt Lake City. I don’t look forward to three plane changes, hanging in airport lounges, and being surrounded by cellphone-obsessed multitudes. But I am excited. The destination at the end of the day—after one more shuttle bus—is Upaya Zen Center somewhere near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve never been there, but have encountered desert life during retreats in Arizona and Southern California.
After a day’s rest, I’ll be joining 24 others to form the second cohort of the two-year Buddhist chaplaincy training program under the leadership of Roshi Joan Halifax. Our schedule will be filled with meditation, lectures, workshops, meals, work practice, chanting, plus time for quiet reflection and small-group work (all this between 6 am and 11 pm). There’s a computer in the library and I hope to find time and access to post often over the next ten days.
One of the books I’m packing is a volume of Thomas Merton’s personal journals. It’s appropriate to make Merton my companion: it was from reading his five volumes of journals that directed me to my current path of service and contemplation. A Catholic monk for half his life, Merton had a deep intellectual and spiritual interest in Zen Buddhism (and other religions of the East).
Opened at random, I am stirred by his entry of December 4, 1968 as the monk from Kentucky stands before huge Buddha statues carved deep into the mountain side near Colombo, Sri Lanka:
Looking at the figures, I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tired vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. The sheer evidence of the reclining figure, their smile, the sad smile of Ananda standing with arms folded …. The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, 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 vitality running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely … this 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 I have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.
This is Asia in its purity, not covered with garbage …. It says everything. It needs nothing. Because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we, Asians included, who need to discover it.”