The Asian Journey of Thomas Merton began in earnest when he took off from the San Francisco airport on Tuesday October 15, 1968. He began the trip with the excitement of a child embarking on a long awaited and much anticipated trip.
"The moment of take-off was ecstatic... We left the ground - I with Christian Mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering and fooling around. May I not come back without having settled the great affair. And found also the great compassion, mahakaruna." AJTM p.4
To these we could add a host of other pictures that reflect a world in travail... The Derry Civil Rights Marches marking the beginning of the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Mai Lai Massacre in Vietnam, The pre-olympic Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico, Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia, Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests... Phew!!! What a year. It's no wonder Merton was in search of the great compassion!
Merton's journey began during the flight of Apollo 7 and the Mexico City Summer Olympics. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the newly elected Prime Minister in Canada and the U.S. was in the midst of a presidential election to replace LBJ. I remember these events distinctly as a sixth grader in small-town Houghton, Michigan.
Merton wrote to his friends before leaving on his trip to let them know his purpose and hopes in travelling to Asia. His plans were to attend a couple of meetings, visit some monastaries, and learn something of Buddhist monasticism "first-hand". He was clear that his trip was non-political and not linked to the war in Vietnam. He concluded his letter with this thought...
"Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action." AJTM p. 296
Peace and Blessings... Rob
“Be good, keep your feet dry, your eyes open, your heart at peace and your soul in the joy of Christ.” Thomas Merton