Thursday, December 16, 2010

Culture Needs Eastern Wisdom

"The horizons of the world are no longer confined to Europe [or the West]."
  -- A Thomas Merton Reader, essays by Thomas Merton

While some visitors here may be confounded by the name of this blog and its stated aims, be no mistake, the "raft is not the shore, nor is the wave without the water."  The winds are in the waves. This is everyday mind. Writing in his collected essays, Theologian, and great friend of Eastern philosophy and wisdom, Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton speaks to a subject increasingly important in modern life. He writes in an essay that "we have to gain new perspectives, and on this our spiritual and even our physical survival may depend... Does Christian culture need Oriental wisdom?" It is, he says, absolutely essential to introduce into our studies, the Humanities and a dimension of wisdom oriented to contemplation as well as to wise action.... It is no longer sufficient to go back over our European and Christian traditions."

Merton asks if Christian, western culture needs Asian wisdom. He asks if the current lack of Humanities education by the vast majority of educators and students leads to a great, gaping void. While many think of the Humanities to be synonymous with the Arts such as painting, drawing, music or theater, it is, in fact, so much more. This is moreover what Merton ponders. He says, "while it would certainly be rash to state this without further qualification. We may ask ourselves a few pertinent questions on the subject...
Firstly, it is quite clear that non-Christian religion has anything that Christianity needs, so far as it is a supernaturally revealed religion. Yet from the point of incarnation, of revealed Christian truth, we know how much of Greek and Roman patrimony there is in the faith. We know also of the breadth of Aristotle's use of Arabian commentators and mystics; we know of similar use of Asian philosophy and wisdom."

"Have we not been too ready to dismiss Oriental philosophy without really attempting to understand it? Do we not shrug it off? Can we be content to leave it at the level of comparative religion, like we might saunter through the Louvre in Paris comparing paintings? Do we simply study these systems from an a-priori logic, judging them false, but interesting anyway?"
To these musings Merton writes decidedly, "we cannot arrive at an understanding of any wisdom, natural or super-natural by arguing for or against it. Wisdom is not penetrated by logical analysis." The values in [Oriental] religion reveal themselves only on the plane of spiritual experience, or in the least, on a plane of aesthetic experience. They belong [also], to the natural order with deep affinities to super-naturalism, of course. A firm grasp of them leads us to both a deeper understanding of Eastern and Western values." This Merton says is vital to us in our modern, everyday lives.

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