Vancouver's Merton Community
Vancouver, and the Lower Mainland of BC, is a veritable hotbed of Merton scholars and enthusiasts. We have Susan Cowan, Ron Dart, Donald Grayston, Judith Hardcastle, Ross Labrie, Angus Stuart, and Lynn Szabo to name but a few (actually Judith now lives in Golden but is still glimpsed from time-to-time in Vancouver's West End). Together with others in the Thomas Merton Society of Canada these folks anchor a wonderful community and provide many excellent learning opportunities by way of lectures, conferences and retreats. They have also created the Thomas Merton Reading Room in partnership with the Vancouver School of Theology.
On Friday I enjoyed a lengthy lunch at the Sylvia Hotel on English Bay with Donald Grayston, theologian, soulfriend, and pilgrim. Don is the current President of the International Thomas Merton Society and has been a student of Merton's for over 50 years. Don made an Asian pilgrimage "in the footsteps of Merton" in 2000-2001 and has generously agreed to share some of his experiences in this weblog.
Darjeeling - November 16, 1968
On November 16, 1968 Thomas Merton meets Chadral Rinpoche, whom he describes as... "the greatest rimpoche I have met so far and a very impressive person." AJTM p.143
Don Grayston shares these brief thoughts on this stage of Merton's pilgrimage... "Merton's encounter with Chadral (his preferred spelling: the AJTM uses the form “Chatral”) Rinpoche was, in my view, the most significant personal encounter of his Asian pilgrimage (pp. 142-44). Chadral and Merton were both hermits, much of an age, both with a long history of spiritual practice. The Dalai Lama, by contrast, was much younger than Merton, and was clearly the learner in their three encounters.
Merton’s reference to sunyata (emptiness) and karuna (compassion) as a focus of their discussion, as well as Merton’s comment that both he and Chadral were “on the edge of [the] great realization” (p. 143), needs to be read together with Merton’s account of his experience two weeks later in the presence of the great Buddhas of Polonnaruwa (pp. 230-36). In that account, Merton speaks of his having been “jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things” (p. 233), and acknowledges that “everything is emptiness and everything is compassion” (p. 235). These and his other comments point to a transformative moment, in my view the deepest point of Merton’s journey. He had experienced the Great Realization."
For more infomation on Don and his interests visit his website at http://www.donaldgrayston.ca/ , and for his pilgrimage thoughts and experiences http://www.donaldgrayston.ca/pilgrim.html .
"A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, in the expectation of transformation." Donald Grayston