…with its clutter of shops and wild, dirty streets. Crowds. Motorbikes. Taxis. Buses. Trucks fixed up to look like dragons, glittering red and chrome. Dirt. Camp. Madness. Enormous nightmare movie ads. And lovely people. Beautiful, gentle people – except those who are learning too fast from the Americans. A long ride to the wat but we finally get there. I pass through a gate into a maze of shady lanes and alleys, large houses, canals, temples, school buildings. I ask a bhikkhu for directions and arrive at the domicile of Phra Khantipalo. He is extremely thin, bones sticking out in all directions. He has the look of a strict observer. But sensible. (“These people here are very tolerant and uncritical.”) Khantipalo is the author of two books on Buddhism. He says he is going to a forest monastery in the northeast part of Siam in four or five days. He will have a quasi-hermit life there, with a good meditation teacher, in the jungle. We talked of satipatthana meditation.
– The Asian Journal, Thomas Merton
I first read Merton’s Asian Journal while working in the remote area of northeast Thailand, having been in-country there at the time for a couple of years, and having learned Thai, and having nominally practised Buddhism.
If life there gave me a foil that eventually called all of my enculturated ways of knowing into question, then Merton – and in particular his Asian Journal – began stripping away all of these layers of socially indoctrinated meaning-making. This was a psychologically healthy step.
And there is no phrase in his Journal that struck more boldly at the heart of how I had been raised than this: And lovely people. Beautiful, gentle people.
You cannot in your wildest imagination understand just how violent you are until you live among Thai people. You cannot.
Many years later I returned to the country of my birth. But I had become a stranger to her, and she to me. I had been uprooted from that violent ground. And once I had seen my way clear to not participate in violence I found no reason to be dominated by it. Not surprisingly we have had to vigorously defend ourselves from others’ incursions that would draw us back into the craziness of American and Canadian systemic violence.
We renounce violence in all of its forms.
Violence never serves any goal except to expose the fearful psychology of the one who carries it out.
There is a mentally healthy nurturing, caring, compassionate, loving, and loveable way to witness without violence. We are haunted by beautiful, lovely, gentle people.