What a great book. Thomas Merton's Mystics and Zen Masters is an incredible find for me. Been reading in the last couple days in my free time. Just finished the third chapter. Incredible stuff.
His premise for the book (which is a combination of essays and treatises) is that much of the Eastern-Oriental traditions can help compliment, even complete, Western Christianity. Here is a great sample of that such thought...
We hopefully look forward not to an age of eclecticism and syncretism, certainly, but to an age of understanding and adaptation that will be able to synthesize and make use of all that is good and noble in all the traditions of the past. If the world is to survive and if civilization is to endure or rather perhaps weather its present crisis and recover its dimension of "wisdom," we must hope for a new world culture that takes account of all civilized philosophies.
This book was first published in the early sixties and has such relevance for today. In America's War on Terror (read "War on Anyone who goes against the American Way of Life") where it is viewed by much of the non-christianized world as quasi-religious (at least) in nature insofar as we are erradicating a percieved bad to replace it with an American good. I think we would do better to reconsider such things.
So, chapter two deals primarily with Confucianism and Taoism (both fascinatingly complimentary in their pure forms to Christ's teachings and life - interesting to wonder what God was doing in these traditions around the times of the Persian exile for the Jews... perhaps some of these nations we read of in Malachi that are glorifying God could be the Eastern nations?... perhaps God was already doing something there?...). The sayings of Confucius (actually Kung Tzu) have at the root of them the notion that man is by nature good, not bad. Therefore, we do not need to make him good as much as we need to educate and nurture the good within. Kinda goes with some of Mike's thoughts on the Image of God?
So, a story that one of Kung Tzu's students centuries later uses to illustrate this is one of a beautifully wooded mountain. (You may have heard of this; it is the Ox Mountain parable.) [It] was near a center of population out of which men came with axes and cut down the trees of the forest. When the trees began to grow again, they set their flocks to graze on the mountainside, and the flocks ate up the green shoots. No one would believe the mountain had once been wooded.
Merton continues: So too with man: he is naturally inclined to virtue, but his actions, in a greedy and grasping society, so completely destroy all evidence of his innate goodness that he appears to be naturally evil.
Take that reformers! Just kidding, but the idea of the total depravity of man is in no way what I see in the world, nor what I see in the Kingdom of God, which Christ says is ever-expanding like yeast. Hmm. Emerson and Thoreau echoed some of these thoughts, as we read on our desert excursion last week. Faith not just in man, but faith in what God is doing in man.
So that's some of what I pulled from Confucianism, but Taoism had even more to pull from (but my time runs short...).
Dr. Wu, when he translated the Gospel of John into Chinese 30 years ago, began with the words: "In the beginning was Tao, and Tao was with God, and Tao was God." Pretty interesting, ey? Especially for those of you who have studied Taoism or who have read the Tao Te Ching.
One "reaches" the Tao by "becoming like" the Tao, by acting, in some sense according to the "way" (Tao). Sounds like living in rhythm with God in the way of Christ doesn't it?
Well, enough for now... but a parting quote from the Tao Te Ching.
To rejoice over a victory is to rejoice over the slaughter of men!
Hence a man who rejoices over the slaughter of men cannot expect to thrive in the world of men.