Thomas Merton went to Asia with a view to exploring the possibility of establishing a Christian monastic presence there to serve as a bridge between the meditative traditions of East and West. He was warmly received by leaders of those traditions and greatly impressed some with his own spirituality. It was in Bangkok, during this tour, that, after delivering a paper at a symposium, he returned to his hotel for a hot bath and nap and was electrocuted when he tried to move a fan. Thus ended his mission and his life.
This senseless death was greatly mourned by all those who knew him or had been inspired by his many writings. It was, indeed, an unfortunate loss. The senselessness of his death is made even more poignant by greatness of the man himself. And it is upon this senselessness that I wish to presently reflect.
In calling it senseless I have already expressed an opinion. It was not seemingly senseless; it was senseless. There was no reason, no purpose, no mysterious working of the hand of God. Shit happens. It's as simple as that.
You may disagree. Or you may suggest that we simply cannot know. And with this I can only concur. Nevertheless, the brute fact of the event remains; and though I do not wish to define it as either purposeful or senseless, the simple act of declaring I do not know somehow leaves me with a sense of the senseless. Perhaps I am failing of not-knowing.
Still, I find this sense of the senseless a deeply challenging experience. It rises as an impenetrable wall before the relentless pursuit of the 'normal human inclinations'. It cuts like a knife through the hunger for purposefulness. It calls into question all the strategies of egoic identity to affirm and reassure itself that it is real and meaningful.
These are the kinds of challenges which I see as a helpful means to breaking free of the shell egoic identity — the ones to which that identity most ardently rebels. This is a strategy, a method; it need not be declared the truth. Perhaps, were I able, I would simply snuggle into the warm and fuzzy blanket of hopeful belief. Thomas Merton, I suspect, had such a blanket, and he was a deeply spiritual man.
All these words are simply an attempt to offer up here, for your reflection, the apparent senselessness of things. Whether you choose to do so, and where those reflections take you, are entirely different matter.
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