I have to admit I am nervous and in awe today as I wait calmly with my beloved Signature partners to greet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I know my personal connections go way back to early adulthood. And now, our Signature Spiritual Pillar operationalizes the need to feel and display compassion – the Dalai Lama’s central work and legacy – combining with our city to become a national leader in the Compassion City movement, making the perfect recipe for non-secular pulsating peace.
This can be validated all week long with our annual Festival of Faiths conference, one of the biggest in the world, with deep roots back to Merton’s writing and others. These recent moves can be attributed to our progressive mayor, who really gets it. This day is even bigger than any local athletic success on the world stage (don’t get mad U of L fans, it was an epic year), and it’s something Louisville needs to celebrate. Maybe that’s why I feel the anxiety…
He was last here in 1993 to honor Merton, revisiting with Kentucky as sounds of compassion were unveiled from the loins of Mammoth Cave. For me it seems like yesterday, but it was actually nearly 30 years ago when the father of my college girlfriend gave me the classic book ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse, when I learned the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths for the first time – and a new world seemed to magically open. Not just because I was fighting my Catholic guilt all alone in my bedroom, but that Eastern contemplative way of life and our special Western ambition to be bold and lead intersect beautifully to make life all make sense.
Back then I was getting into reading about Thomas Merton anyway because it seemed like every Catholic young man consumed Merton’s famed ‘The Seven Storey Mountain.’ We could relate to the ‘Dante’s Inferno’ reference for what young men go through. Actually, for me, Thomas Merton was the first theological writer to openly admit since St. Augustine did more than 1,600 years ago his painful search to find the One voice. Anyone with deep ties to Bellarmine University knows the spiritual awakening we went through as we connected to Merton’s heritage with deep pride.
The intersection between Merton’s contemplative Christian views and his secular epiphany at old Walnut Street in downtown Louisville, seeing that true human compassion was a real possibility and not a theological construct, made many Louisvillian feel a deeper connection to something bigger than ourselves. So today is bigger than you might think for many of us who are withholding deepest private thoughts just to stay reflective and not lose this sacred moment.
Most know of Merton’s deep relationship with the Dalai Lama, their personal encounters, and Merton’s tragic passing on Dec. 10, 1968 in Thailand. His breakthrough speech about the monastic life, and intersections between East and West, are playing out in front of us at this moment as I wait passionately for the door to open and His Holiness to walk in to meet and greet all of his spiritual stakeholders who understand the significance of Right Now.
As the 14th leader of the fourth largest religion in the world, Buddhism, we all seem to want to know more about the Eastern contemplative lifestyle and his personal painful but rewarding journey to educate, motivate and share with everyone he greets that there is a better way… To live compassionately, without hate, to love fellow man as much as yourself, and to know that your ‘personal works’ are all you really own along this complicated path.
Like every gifted mortal, he teaches simplicity but his journey has complications, struggles for survival just like ours. And please remember one thing about Buddhism: the first noble truth is that ’suffering pervades reality, always,’ which means the human condition requires us to suffer. No one makes it out alive, or without suffering. I can’t tell you all of the suffering I personally have experienced or felt, but know I believe our suffering is truly equal because God wants it that way. Otherwise, we would never want to leave the here and now.
Oh my God, the door is opening, here he is, His Holiness is walking our way…